A Celebration of Women Writers

"Columbia's Women." by Mrs. Amanda Kerr Lewis (1839-).
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. 371-379.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 371] 



[Copyrighted 1893.]



There are three little words which are often heard,
   Yesterday, today and tomorrow;
They fall from our lips as mere idle words,
   Yet are fraught with joy or sorrow.

We grasp not their import, nor meaning so grand,
   'Mid our hurry, and bustle, and strife,
Yet they reach far backward, and forward, too,
   And cover the whole of our life.

We speak of a day as a trivial thing,
   And squander its hours away,
Forgetting its passing so surely records
   Time, precious, gone, gone for aye.

Time infinite differs most widely from ours,
   For the sacred writers portray
That "a day with the Lord's as a thousand years.
   And a thousand years as a day."

From this view of a yesterday passed
   Let us gather some memories sublime;
Not from out the weird past of a thousand years,
   But from four hundred years of time.

Our continent then with its mountains, and plains,
   Spread from eastern to western sea;
And tossed its bright leaves o'er its silver lakes,
   On its winds so wild and free.

The lords of the soil in that far-away time,
   Ere Columbus sailed over the sea,
Were a savage, crude and ignoble race,
   Far-off sons of the ancient Chinese.

Then from sunny Spain came Columbus brave,
   With a hope in his anxious mind
To traverse the seas and learn their bounds,
   And the east coast of India to find.

[Page 372] 

Eighteen long years he had plead and had prayed
   For aid from proud Europe's laws,
Kings sneered, boys jeered, but a brave woman cried–
   "My jewels I'll pledge for your cause."

She was ready to give every necklace and brooch,
   From her arm every bracelet and chain,
Columbia–flash the name with electric flame
   Of your patron, Isabella of Spain.

'Twas not Asia's shore Columbus trod,
   By the grand Spanish queen's behest;
But he found here, across the wide billowy foam,
   The India isles of the west.

These children of nature had never then heard
   Of a Calvin's peculiar creed;
Nor from a John Knox, or a Wesley,
   Had learned of a sinner's need.

But living so close to dear nature's heart,
   Even midst all their wild forest strife,
They reverent looked up to the Spirit
   Of the sun, which gave nature her life.

So here, as in all of the ages past,
   When strangers on newer lands trod,
The older historical people
   Called them always the sons of their God.

Four hundred years of time–is it true?
   America, the home of the free,
Since your hero, for whom you should have been named,
   On your soil dropped his reverent knee?

Oh hero! rewarded with chains and with scorn,
   It is time that the world should now know,
That America, free, here at last exalts,
   The wise Christofal Columbo.

Four hundred years of history and fame!
   Stained with blood here and there; yet we see
Here the largest, the happiest, the grandest land–
   Columbia, America, the free!

               SECOND PERIOD.

One hundred years more of the time passed by,
   In this wonderful, newly-found West,
While England's kings were sowing some seeds,
   Which grew there without their behest.

'Till again from across the wide, watery deep
   Came a fairer and nobler stock,
To seek for new homes, for liberty's sake,
   By the side of our Plymouth Rock.

Of the Puritan Fathers so often we've heard,
   Since our childhood's sweet, happy dream,
In spite of their creeds, and their bigotry dark,
   Held up in such high esteem.

[Page 373] 

But of Pilgrim Mothers–how little we know!
   They were patient, and true, and so brave,
'Mid the direst want, and hardships of war,
   They walked from cradle to grave.

For this century now, on the roll of old Time,
   Was a darkened and bloody page;
For the pale-face oft fell 'neath the tomahawk
   Of the red-man's violent rage.

We censure him not, for such cruel greed,
   And treachery dark, was oft made
The means that were used to drive him far back
   From his own forest home, and his glade.

Had the British invaders but practiced the rule
   Laid down in their Gospel, I ween
That this land would not have been stained with their blood,
   Nor massacres ever been seen.

               THIRD PERIOD.

The colonies soon formed, a little brave group,
   All told there were only thirteen;
They cast aside all their swaddling bands,
   And entered a wild, untried scene.

Brave fathers and sons then entered that strife,
   Caring nothing for what it might cost,
Gave their money, their homes, their treasures–themselves
   That their liberties might not be lost.

While patriots breathe, and country remains,
   This thought in our memory fix–
No grander souls have ever lived
   Than the women of '76.

But this strife passed away, peace spread her bright wing,
   Washington sat with his kingly brow
At the close of the year of his crucial test,
   A century ago, just now.

Fathers and husbands, brothers and sons,
   Were counted as gold then, we know;
But what of the women who lived and who loved
   One hundred long years ago?

The mothers and wives toiled early and late,
   At the cradle, the wheel, and the loom,
But for books, for study, for culture of mind,
   In their lives there was little room.

The brothers and sons must go off to school,
   Must learn figures to the "Rule of Three;"
Enter college–university–read Latin and Greek,
   Pluck rich fruit from the knowledge tree.

But the girls were too weak, of too little account,
   Had not brains then to learn any rule;
They could spin, and could weave, could nurse, cook and sweep,
   But were too feeble-minded for school.

[Page 374] 

'Twas one hundred years ago and three
   That the doors of the common schools
Were set, by some wise men, just a little ajar,
   To see if the girls were all fools.

They let them slip in–just an hour or two,
   To fill up a cold, vacant seat,
When a boy was kept out, in the early spring,
   To help raise something to eat.

But by and by, these wiseacres said:
   "Why, the girls are clever, 'tis true,
For they've held their place by the side of the boys,
   And sometimes have passed them, too."

For 'twas found in these years that woman had brains
   Near akin to the stronger sex,
So they've let us in the universities, too,
   Even stately old Harvard-Annex.

John Hopkins, well known of the Southern land,
   Long held woman back as of old,
But now it is said even that has been bought,
   Or at least the story is told.

That a woman stood late at her portals and knocked,
   Saying, "Please let us into your fold,
And I will give you what you very much need,
   A hundred thousand of gold."

               FOURTH PERIOD.

A memory dark, of a sorrowful time,
   Comes rushing along as the tide,
When a brother in blue, and another in gray,
   Fought, struggled and died, side by side.

Through that terrible war, when its balls and its shells
   Went whizzing all over the land,
While the men kept the field the women at home
   Scraped the lint, and tore hospital band.

Women, noble in heart and unselfish in thought,
   Thinking nothing of profit or gain,
Went forth from their homes, to the hospital tent,
   To care for the wounded and slain.

When that fell pistol-shot rang out on the night,
   And the nation's brave chief was laid low,
The Stars and the Stripes of America drooped
   In her grief-stricken hour of woe.

When the future looked dark, and the country seemed wrecked,
   And the land was with terror alive,
Brave men with sad hearts were aided and cheered
   By the women of '65.

The North and the South, both deemed their cause just,
   And together bore sorrow and pain;
But now from the Lakes to the Mexico Gulf
   We are brothers and sisters again.

[Page 375] 

And the spirit of '76 still lived,
   And rose Phœnix-like from the fray,
And the glorious crown of Liberty,
   Wears Columbia still today.

               FIFTH PERIOD.

And what of Today, watchman? What of Today?
   Help me now its import to unfold;
How read we the symbols, the signs of the times?
   What's Today's record to be unrolled.

Not the men alone are giving their thoughts,
   So earnest, so wise, so great,
Columbia's women keep pace by their side
   All over each sun-kissed state.

A national work of meaning so grand
   Is felt in our land today,
The echoing voice of a far-off state,
   A sound to be heard for aye.

A few little seeds by some earnest minds
   A few years ago were sown,
By "Chautauqua's shores," in the "Empire State,"
   From which rich harvests have grown.

'Twas a great, grand thought to give to the world,
   This plan by a few outlined,
To raise the world to a betterment,
   To lift up and ennoble mankind.

The clear Bryant bell, by Chautauqua's lake,
   Has rung its sweet peals in our ears,
Carried music and joy to thousands of homes
   In these later passings of years.

Other circles for culture and study and growth
   Are springing up, side by side,
In city and village, and hamlet and town,
   From Atlantic to the sun-down tide.

They traverse the fields of science and art,
   Of language and poetry rare;
They seek for the wisdom of Grecian sage,
   Read old Egypt's sculptures fair.

The old circle for sewing, and the gossipy tea,
   On the roll of Today have no part;
When women convene now, in language choice
   They converse on "Ethics" and "Art."

               SIXTH PERIOD.

Yesterday is gone to the tomb of the past,
   Today let us not trouble borrow,
For here we find gladness and peace and hope,
   But, watchman, what of Tomorrow?

[Page 376] 

Its promise is bright and most hopeful, we deem,
   For brothers and sisters together,
Now, side by side, drink from wisdom's deep fount,
   In cloudy and sunshiny weather.

The parents and children together now search
   For the treasures of all ancient lore;
The mothers need never again be styled,
   "The old servant who waits on the door."

Some think that the race, in the coming years,
   For position, for culture, for health,
Between man and woman, and boy and girl,
   For honors, for fame, for wealth,

Will settle some questions of present dark need,
   Which hope to some sad hearts may carry,
When woman can live by her own honest work
   She'll not be in haste to marry.

When she'll give her hand in the marriage bond
   To the lawyer she'll ne'er be a debtor;
'Twill be for pure love, and not for a home,
   There'll be fewer ties, but better.

The tomorrow of woman stands not alone,
   With the sunrise light in her face,
But also for man waits a blessing sure,
   If he's found in a true man's place.

We are nearing the end of another page
   In the history's roll of the world,
A century's close is a turning time,
   New truths will then be unfurled.

Since the Puritan Fathers first came to these shores
   And their homes of liberty sought,
The dawning time of each hundred years
   Has given to the world its new thought.

Both the church and the state, in the passing of years,
   Have rolled many clouds far away,
And the gloom and the fear of the Puritan creeds
   Are truly not with us today.

Our nation has left in the depths of the past
   Its childhood and infantile sleep,
And with noontide strength must wrestle now
   With problems both dark and deep.

Her money, her trusts, and her laborers' cries,
   Her tariffs, her capital schemes,
Are the subjects demanding the wisest of laws–
   'Tis no time for mere idle dreams.

Our nation's too free, if the truth we'll confess,
   'Tis high time her laws were made firm
To keep out the paupers, and Old World serfs,
   With their death-spreading cholera germ.

[Page 377] 

She is much too free, in her precincts and polls,
   For safety to Liberty's cause,
When foreigners all are granted a vote
   Before they know aught of her laws.

Not faiths, nor creeds, are our greatest needs,
   Which ofttimes engender a strife;
But the reaching out of the helping hand
   To the Jean Valjeans of life.

Earth's pitiful, sad and dejected ones
   Call daily to us for our care,
The lowly and fallen need lifting up,
   True charity's deed is so rare.

               SEVENTH PERIOD.

Today is a time to be proud of, my friends,
   For 'tis filled with promises rare,
In it are glimpses of coming joys,
   In them may we all have a share.

Grand women are found now in high honored seats,
   In the home, in the pulpit, the bar,
In the doctor's gig–what a magical change
   Since that school-door went slightly ajar?

Columbia's women are found at the front,
   Where the youth of our nation are taught,
In the church, on the press, in the temperance cause,
   Or with Charity's blessings fraught.

As America honors her natal time,
   Of her four hundred years today,
Her women stand side by side with her men
   In her nationalistic display.

As Columbia's women we've stretched out kindly hands
   To our sisters from over the main;
We have welcomed them all, from court or from cot,
   Or from ancient Palace of Spain.

And we've room for still more on our prairies so broad,
   Come from South land, and North Sea so cold!
From mountain and plain and island, to greet
   Miss Columbia! four hundred years old.

Many names are enrolled this Columbian time
   In our national record book,
But three stand forth with electric light,–
   Mesdames Palmer, Henrotin and Cooke.

They stood at the helm, amid all the storms,
   'Till "our ship" at its anchorage lay–
Let Columbia's women give them homage due
   In this "Woman's Building" today.

And others stand in a golden rank;
   We would take you all by the hand,
But to number in name–'twere as easy to count
   The grains of the sea-beach strand.

[Page 378] 

Many Christian names flash along into line
   On Columbia's Liberty Tree–
A Julia, a May, Elizabeth, too,
   Frances, Lucy, and Susan B.

Women always have wanted the equal right
   To rule as queens in the heart;
To make husbands, children and friends good and true,
   And thus act their noblest part.

Some are asking you brothers, for the equal rights
   To be found in the ballot box–
Not to linger in halls, or about the polls,
   Nor to seek all the world's rough knocks;

But the equal right to stand in the line,
   As we're taxed just the same as you,
And to cast our votes, with a hearty good-will,
   For laws that are loyal and true.

We may not now know all the principles deep
   In our nation's political creed,
Yet you surely will say we're full equals today
   To the masses–whose votes you all need.

We must dig and must delve in the mold of the past,
   For the lessons of wisdom made plain,–
How nations have risen and prospered, or sunk
   Back, back to oblivion again.

The specters of ignorance, prejudice, doubt,
   Must beat a quiet retreat;
And the mandates of selfishness, fashion and pride,
   Must be trampled beneath our feet.

When woman has proved to the lordlier race
   She has broken these chains of the past,
He will reach out his scepter, and graciously say,
   "Here's the half of my kingdom at last."

The tomorrow of woman we thus clearly define,
   We aim not, dear brothers, above you;
True woman is happiest enthroned by your side,
   Go halvers! and see how we'll love you!

The true men and women must stand side by side,
   And with zeal and strength for the fight
Must together march on, and lend helping hand
   For Truth, for Freedom, for Right.

When woman for her worth can thus be enthroned,
   And of Life be the Polar Star,
Our land will be purer and better than now,
   And man will be nobler by far.

Each day filled with duty and kindly thought,
   Kindly word, kindly deed without strife,
Will make a tomorrow of beautiful cloth
   For our wonderful web of life.

[Page 379] 

When this web is complete and its warp and its woof
   And its flowers of beauty been scanned,
Our "Yesterdays" gone and "Todays" shall be lost
   In Tomorrow's bright summer land.

Columbia's women, press on your bright way,
   Rise higher in wisdom and art;
But scatter about you wherever you go
   Sweet blossoms from kindliest heart.

May the century next inscribe on its roll,
   On Time's pillar still bright and free
By the side of the men, the glorious work
   Of the women of '93.

[Page 371] 

Mrs. Amanda Kerr Lewis is a native of Washington County, Pennsylvania. She was born February 5, 1839. Her parents were James Mason Kerr and Rebecca Dinsmore Kerr, both lovely Christian characters. She was educated at Washington Seminary and graduated in the famous Calico Class of 1855. She has traveled quite extensively throughout the United States. She was married during the dark period of the Civil War to John Henry Lewis, of Bloomington, Ill. Her special work for much of her life has been in the interest of the Presbyterian Church and her missions; but for ten years, feeling the need for the higher education for mothers, she has given herself to the study and teaching of history and literature. Her principal literary works are: "Half-Hours with American Authors," for the Social Literary Circle of which she was the founder. Her poems, "Columbia's Women," "Ships in American Bays," and "The Weavers," have been much admired. She is now in the lecture and "entertainment field," under the title conferred upon her in her city, "The Poet Lecturer of the Rockies."


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