"The Home of the Future." by Miss Lucy Castina Mcgee (ca.1859-1944)
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. 249-252.
|MISS LUCY CASTINA MCGEE.|
1. Women of ability are actively taking upon themselves the greater half of the responsibility of the future. 2. Thinking women, by the conditions which their own activity is bringing about, are debarring themselves from the fruition of their own creation and their own rightful heritage–the home. 3. The success or failure of this whole speculation of the public school and self-government very largely depends on woman's ability to marshal the forces which her magic has called into being.
To appreciate the truth of the fact that women are assuming the greater half of the responsibility of the future, it is only necessary to observe her in the various walks of life that she has, of her own free choice, chosen to enter. That she is honorable, capable, deserving and successful is no longer denied. That the majority of such women have gone out from the home as professional women or women of affairs, earning distinction along every line of activity and of thought, is one of the many surprises of the century. But that she has thus gone out from the home is to be the regret of the future, not that she has not the ability to uphold the usefulness and dignity of professional life, but that she is, with her whole energy and might, engaging in the performance of service which lies beyond the confines of the home. That the service is grave and true service does not necessarily justify its performance by women. Do not mistake my meaning; not for a moment do I wish to imply that the home should be a limitation upon a woman's activity, but rather, if home service under existing conditions is her limitation, it is her privilege, and hers alone, to reorganize the home on a basis that is true and broad enough to offer ample and adequate activity for her varied and magnificent capacity. It is not so much that she fails to realize her own high womanhood outside of the home, but rather that her seeking fields of activity elsewhere is an eternal disadvantage to the home as a social institution. That will be a sorry day when the home is entirely left to woman without capability and without ambition, when it is left to women who do [Page 250] not consciously form a part of the bone and sinew and brain of national life; and yet the high school is helping to bring about just this condition, for as things are moving at present, the high school has too many women among its graduates––not too many for the sake of womankind, nor for the sake of the home and the world, but too many as compared with the number of young men among the graduates.
It must originate from some strange misconception among the mothers of the country, that the daughters only are encouraged to look over into the promised land from the eminence furnished by the high school.
This points, it seems to me, to a fact already in existence, namely, that women of ability are already debarred from their own rightful heritage, and so they are unconsciously making provision to further forego its privileges and its rights. Let us predict, for the sake of the welfare of posterity, that this phase of woman's development is only ancillary to this period which is believed to be transitional in all vital respects, and that it is merely a passing phase And, furthermore, it is reasonably safe to eagerly anticipate that the conditions which have been largely due to woman's activity will be so ordered and controlled that when she does return to the home, it may be enriched by the broadening and deepening and ennobling experience she has enjoyed among strangers in a foreign land. You will say to all this that the university is, on the other hand, sending only men from its halls, and that these are they who keep the intellectual current moving, and who see to it that the world goes on to a higher and better condition.
It is true, and I am sorry it is true, that the university is crowded with men instead of with women. However, there is encouragement in the fact that from one-half to one-third of the students in the state universities are women. The majority of these women are to be teachers, who will, by their influence, principally in the high school, cause a mighty wave of reaction when it is brought to the notice of the large classes of girls that are graduating every year, that the high school is only the "light from which the dome of the university is brought to view." The exodus from the high school to the university will, in the future, principally, consist of young women. Voting men must have preparation for college. As a rule, young men are clever, but they are not clever enough to enter a university without serious preparation. The great majority must get this preparation, if they get it at all, in the high school. They are not now in these schools. The business world embraced in early life may enable them to amass an abundance of wealth in the course of years, but it will not give the necessary preparation for the university; neither will the accumulation of wealth, or the success in business, suffice for a lack of mental grace and development. I have no quarrel to make with the business world, for it is the commercial world that is to carry the gospel of good-will and honest dealing into every community in Christendom, and it is the mercantile ship that is preëminent in genuine missionary work. My protest is against the sentiment that young men do not need the advantage that generous education gives to thinking human beings, and that business success is the mantle whose elegance and richness cover a multitude of faults.
The significance of this state of affairs is altogether unsatisfactory. That women must be educated has been settled once for all. History has shown that an absolutely unequal education on the two sides of the world is altogether undesirable. I do not, however, wish to intimate that conditions can ever again be such as they were, or even nearly as bad, as when women were floating on a sea of blissful ignorance. For when this movement that is now apparent among women reaches its acme, and woman finds man in the mental degradation that results from unrealized capacity, her remembrance of past waves and winds will make her pitiful for her belated brother, and she will not hinder or retard his efforts to get back into the current of thought and intellectual endeavor.
If my insight into womanhood is correct, the educated woman, the woman of advantages, sets higher ideals for herself than does the uneducated. This ideal of the woman who is in touch with the thought current which pulsates through the realm of [Page 251] the higher activities of life, includes educated husbands, educated fathers, educated brothers, and above all, educated lovers. Where are these to come from? The high school of the country does not give evidence that the supply will meet the demand. Any woman who has self-respect, to say nothing of æsthetic taste, would intuitively refuse a partnership with one of whom she might, under many circumstances easily imagined, be ashamed. A woman who is once ashamed of her lord and master's static intellect has already committed conjugal suicide. In this respect the conditions were different when women were yet embryonic, for if women were coy, sweet tempered and pretty, admirable traits surely, the catalogue of requirements was adequate. That will not do any longer. The seriousness and earnestness and womanliness with which she has taken hold of life takes woman, once for all, from the playhouse, and puts her in the workshop.
With the educated woman on the outside, although her personal endeavor be rich with results, the home will sustain endless disadvantages; for it is altogether a platitude to say that upon the intellectual and moral character of the mother largely depends the welfare of the home, as well as on the state and society. The educated woman in the school can only educate, cultivate what is already in the child's mental make-up; even the vigor and conscience of a well equipped teacher cannot create a new make-up in the child. The home, then, as an institution, meeting the demands of an advancing civilization, must be the resultant of equally good types of constituent elements.
It is unquestionable that men do and are to hold the places of distinction. So let it be. They are naturally fitted for leadership in executive, legislative, judicial and commercial activities. They have the brain and the virile character which eminently qualifies them to direct the affairs and the thought of the world. But man as man is on the precise plane with woman as woman. Man as man is not what the future demands. Men who actively and consciously make special preparation for the performance of life's duties are they only who can serve a struggling humanity. Only the men who are willing to absolutely devote themselves to the principles which underlie this complex civilization; only men who can't meet the century in its challenge not only for deep insight, but for the most outspoken convictions resulting from that insight–only these men will be qualified to take hold vigorously of the problems which are already crying for solution. Duties assumed, though faithfully and expeditiously performed by the women of the world, can never elevate the race as a race. There must be a full and rich manhood, as well as a complete womanhood, to constitute the home of the future.
The public school system is an organic part of this stupendous American speculation–the speculation of self-government. This speculation is not, however, of the same sort as the South Sea scheme, based on the "vain imagination of the heart." On the contrary, our speculation of the public school, of self-regulated life–one could not exist without the other–is based on the deepest needs and the broadest sympathies and the most exalted aspirations of the human soul. Such a speculation as this means a trial at living under the highest conditions yet furnished for man by man. If this speculation is to be more than a South Sea scheme, the foundation of the whole inclusive scheme of self-government must be made adequate to bear up the whole enormous structure which we are assisting to construct. It matters not what one's religious, social or political views may be, every law-loving man agrees that the home is the basal unit of our institutions, and that the man best equipped for the performance of either public or private duties is the man directly from the home influence. The faithful performance of these duties means more here and now than at any other place or time since the beginning of human history. To be a true citizen of a nineteenth century republic is to be the center of myriad responsibilities. From the individual extends ten thousand threads which touch at their ends the state, the school, the home, the church, society. Each of these is a part of the individual, and the individual is a part of each of them. Never before have there been such demands [Page 252] made of womanhood and of manhood. To be a man in the democratic sense of the term, means that he shall have intelligence enough to see the right and courage enough to do it at all times and under all conditions; and to be a woman in the nineteenth-century sense of the term, is to have understanding enough to see the needs of a people struggling with the problem of self-regulation, and to have the heart to throw the whole force of her womanliness on the side of continual and ceaseless effort to reach the goal that the human soul sets for its own realization–self-government founded on law-abiding conduct and noble thinking.
This goal of self-government, which implies intelligence and right disposition, is not alone an American speculation. Not a state in Christendom but has felt a heart-throb in response to "be a man!" It is the one thought of the century–this thought of a united brotherhood, living and working together in sympathy and love without the imposition of priestcraft or kingcraft. This kingdom of man will not, however, be at hand, until men and women more fully appreciate the fullness and richness of such a brotherhood. But since the American democracy is leading the way in the solution of some of the most momentous problems now to be conceived from the human point of view, it is all important that our wrong should be made right, that our right be maintained. It is imperative that, first of all, men and women get into the thought movement, get into the way of right and true thinking about our needs, and about the meaning of our speculation, for the ills of democratic life are directly or indirectly traceable to undeveloped heart or brain. Educate the boys and girls till they appreciate the meaning of this complex life of ours; until they realize that they are personally responsible for the success or failure of this idea, that to be manly, to be womanly, is of first importance, and that all else will be added unto them; educate them till they understand that as modern conditions grow in complexity and gravity that there must be a rise in manhood and womanhood to meet the demand; educate them till they feel in their deepest selfhood that the highest freedom is identical with the law of the spirit of man; educate them to this extent and prosperity will rejoice in blessings ten-fold better than we now enjoy. There is, however, no way to salvation other than that it be wrought by individual effort. The rectitude of the individual life is the salvation of the world. Then, until all men and women share alike in rational, self-regulated life all possessing common power of self-direction, all claiming common rights, all recognizing common obligations–not until then is an institution that we have erected safe. When the new generation of thinking women–the dearest children of the public school speculation–silently concludes that: "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers" should be written "Be not unequally yoked with the uneducated, for what communion hath light with darkness," the basal unit of the race the home as an institution–will for the first time become a spiritual boon to humanity, which will, by virtue of its own essence, make for righteousness.
Miss Lucy Castina McGee was born in Martinsburgh, Iowa, in 1859. Her parents were S. and S. J. McGee. American–born citizens, her father being of Scotch-Irish and her mother of French origin. She was graduated from the Iowa Wesleyan University (Mount Pleasant) in 1880, taking the degree M. S. In 1890 she was graduated from the University of Michigan, taking the degree Ph. M. She has spent four years in the Rocky Mountains. During her three years residence in the University of Michigan she did special work in philosophy, English and history. Her principal literary works are essays, philosophical and literary. Miss McGee is now assistant in the Omaha high school, where she occupies the chair of senior English and elocution. The Omaha high school is one of the largest in the West, having about one thousand pupils. She is a member of the Episcopal Church. Her postoffice address is No. 210 Twenty-fifth Street, Omaha, Neb.
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 Mark Ockerbloom.