A Celebration of Women Writers

"'Katharina' in 'The Taming of the Shrew.'" by Mrs. Emma Pratt Mott.
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. 544-554.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 544] 



The prelude to this play, "The Taming of the Shrew," is one of the richest, raciest most delectable pieces of humor extant. This play has been called a perfect whirlwind of the oldest, maddest freaks and farces imaginable." Let us for a few moments attend to a brief study of the principal characters:

A rich gentleman of Padua has two daughters, one apparently all that is shrewish, and the other apparently all loveliness. Like other good parents, he of course desired to see them married. Kate, the shrew, must be married anyhow, and Bianca must have a fat estate for a husband, but he wisely denies the hand of the seeming angel to anyone until the seeming shrew shall have been disposed of, which sets the wits of the angelic Bianca's suitors at work to find a suitor for the shrewish Kate. Presently the very genius of whims and self-will appears as the suitor of Kate, in the person of one Petruchio, a rich gentleman of Verona, a friend to one of Bianca's suitors. Meanwhile the son of another rich gentleman of Pisa visits Padua and is brought within the circle of Bianca's attractions. Lucentio sees Bianca, and the first sight is fatal. By a simple though skillful enough intrigue he wins her in the disguise of a tutor to her in classic lore, he being obliged to employ this method because Bianca's father has cut off all open approaches to her until he shall have disposed of her naughty sister. This forms a sort of under plot in the play, the interests turning upon the manner in which Petruchio woos and weds and tames the so-called frightful Kate. Both these girls are affected, their affectation passing for sincerity. Kate puts on the show of what she has not, and Bianca puts off the show of what she has. The one purposely seems worse and the other better than she is. Kate, the shrew, too proud to be vain, will do nothing to gain friends, everything to serve them. Bianca, too vain to be proud, will do everything to gain friends and nothing to serve them. Bianca is fond of admiration and gets it. Kate envies her what she sees, but will not stoop or bend to get it. In a word, Kate is willful, Bianca selfish. The one affects shrewishness before marriage, the other conceals it until after marriage, for they do not so much change their real faces after marriage as to drop the masks which conceal them. We have all known men who were studiously wise, gentle and amiable in appearance, yet mean and selfish apart, and who appeared to be gentle and amiable because of their selfishness. Again we know men who rather study to be rough, rash, reckless and unkind, seemingly from mere disinterestedness, because they were more concerned for the good of others than for their favor, and [Page 545]  more willing to do them a kindness than to have it known. The first will caress their friends and then desert them. The second will abuse their friends, and then imperil their lives to serve them. Kate belongs to that class of women who will never allow their husbands to govern them if they can help it, nor ever respect their husbands unless they do govern them; who, unsubdued, will do their worst to plague them, but who once subdued will do their utmost to please them. There seems to be a desire with some women to try to prove their husbands and to know them, whether they be what they call genuine pieces of manhood or not. Petruchio's treatment therefore rather reforms the conduct than the character of his wife, rather brings out the good which she seemed to want than to remove the bad which she seemed to have. After marriage there are no traces of the shrew in her conduct. One writer naively says, her sense of duty in the relation dissipates all her artificial life and straightens her behavior. All the materials of her closing speech are in her heart all the while, but she disdains to let them out, and it is not until Petruchio forces them out that she stands before us in her true character. Still the tender and considerate husband is all the while lurking under his affected willfulness. Some writers think that Petruchio falsifies himself more than Kate does because he has more to falsify. He is himself all truth, yet utters nothing but lies; full of kindness and good-nature, he will put on the garb of a fiend to do the work of a benefactor. "He will at any time say more and do fewer bad things than any other man in Italy." He now proceeds to work out of Kate what seems to others the plainest impossibility by the wildest contradiction. "Say that she rails; why then I'll tell her plain she sings." His outrageous humor reached at once its height when riding with his wife he visits her father, he meets old Vincentio, and requires him to salute her as a beautiful lady.

"Tell me, sweet Kate, and tell me truly true,
Hast thou beheld a fresher gentlewoman?"

Thus do we see, as if by magic, Kate the cursed presently become the most loyal of wives. We have not a grain of pity to spare for Kate, who is better pleased to find a conqueror than to be the conqueror. On the whole it is satisfactory to her to discover that there is at least one man of force and spirit in the world, and to know that he, and no other, has chosen her for his wife; and so Kate transfers all her boldness to the very effrontery of obedience. Behind her delightful sauciness lie warmth and courage at heart. Strange that Shakespeare should have known so long ago that which most people still find so hard to learn. We behold in the great bard's wonderful magic mirrors that his heroines are more perfectly feminine than any woman could have found it in her heart or brain to make them. Woman, as she resembles man, was of less consequence to Shakespeare than woman in herself. Shakespeare says: "Here woman stands, the modern world stooping at her feet will have to yield some of the reputed exclusiveness of men, but only such traits of it as Imogene, Cordelia, Beatrice or Portia will elect." In dealing with married love Shakespeare, ever true to nature, gives it no rhapsodies or flowers of speech. It may be a love that overwhelms a man's whole nature, as with Othello, when he exclaimed after an enforced absence, and looking into his wife's face:

"If it were now to die, 'twere now to be most happy."
Or Brutus, comforting his wife when she desires to know the secret that is oppressing him:
"Am I yourself but as it were in sort of limitation,
   To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed,
And talk to you sometimes? Dwell I but in the suburbs
Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,
Portia is Brutus' harlot, not his wife."
and his answer is full of profound, earnest, sad truth: [Page 546] 
"You are my true and honorable wife,
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
That visit my sad heart."
Here is true, consistent, reasonable love. It does not worship the ground she walks upon. It does not desire to kiss the glove she wears. He, the Shakespeare husband lover, despises the ground, and would throw the glove into the fire. But Othello, in that moment of fury, would willingly die, and Brutus would give his life for his wife. This love in married life, as represented by Shakespeare, is the real. It has grown out of companionship and friendship, and passion only plays a super's part, says his lines and departs. "My husband is my friend," is the grandest exclamation of Shakespeare's married love. The great and noble friendship between husband and wife, which, like sun rays, serve to reveal the black and bloody canvas of human history, become fewer and fewer as the progress of the age teaches us the art of a greater selfishness, and teaches us to laugh where once we wept, and never weep at all. Petruchio had the right which was accorded husbands in those days to resort to the English custom of selling wives whenever considered shrews, but the thought never once suggested itself to him, for he loved Katharina, and endeavored to let her see herself in an exaggerated form, and thus become disgusted with such conduct. But as late as April 7, 1832, at Carlisle, England, occurred an example of wife selling. One Mrs. Thompson was eloquently shuffled off at auction, her husband being the auctioneer, and this is his speech:

"Gentleman, I have to offer to your notice my wife, Mary Ann Thompson, otherwise Williams, whom I mean to sell to the highest bidder. Gentlemen, it is her wish as well as mine to part forever. She has been to me only a born serpent. I took her for the comfort and the good of my house, but she became my tormenter, a domestic curse. Gentlemen, I speak truth when I say may God deliver us from troublesome wives and frolicsome women. Avoid them as you would a mad-dog, a roaring lion, a loaded pistol, cholera, Mt. Etna, or any other pestilential thing in nature. Now I have told you the dark side of my wife and shown you her faults and failings. I will introduce the bright side and explain her qualifications and goodness. She can read novels and milk cows. She can laugh and weep with the same ease that you take a glass of ale. Indeed, gentlemen, she reminds me of what the poet said of women:

"'Heaven gave to women the peculiar grace
To laugh, to weep, to cheat the human race.'

"She can make butter and scold the maid, and she can sing Moore's melodies, and make her frill and cap. She can not make rum, but she is a good judge of its quality from long experience. I therefore offer her, with all her perfections and imperfections, for the sum of fifty shillings."

It is marvelous that there could have been found any man with courage and valor enough to buy, but such there was by name Henry Mears, who, after an hour's haggling, offered twenty shillings and a Newfoundland dog. They then parted in perfect good temper, Mears and the shrew and Mr. Thompson and the dog. Petruchio could have exercised his right also to the use of the bridle or brank, which being put upon the offender by order of the magistrate, and fastened with a padlock behind the ear, she is lead in it around the town by an officer to her shame, nor is it taken off until the woman begins to show external signs of humiliation. The character of Petruchio is not so uncommon, and the world is full of Katharinas. Katharina's closing speech is at once elegant, eloquent, poetical and true. It is worth all volumes on household virtues.

What kind of a man is our modern Petruchio? A sensible fellow with practical ideas to suit his wife, who fancies that men are in danger in their turn of losing some of their rights. He is like the majority of young men in this country, well-meaning, industrious, hoping to make a moderate fortune because a good citizen, husband and father, and go through life creditably and honorable. He says: "What is my wife to [Page 547]  be to me and I to my wife?" Since I began to listen to the story of woman's wrongs and woman's rights, the world is turned topsy-turvy. I am morally sea-sick. 'Tis a state of transition with women, answers this modern American Katharina, with her pale, striking features, a skin like dough, gray, thoughtful eyes, her chest flat, her movements and her whole bearing full of unrest, and these hinting subtly at suppressed powers, and whether she condemn a philosophy or dismiss a lover to arrange her hair, it is done alike with the same careless air of superiority. This modern Kate grows courteously satirical when she talks of her grandmother's days, but one notices that this same charming woman on examining some old ivory miniature grows annoyed to find the features of those last century dames as refined as their own, and the vehicle of as subtle and strong minds. "Strange," says the nineteenth century woman, as she puts them away, "That these faces could have been content with a life of serfdom–mere housekeepers." "But, Kate," says our modern Petruchio, "men are mulish; these same domestic women are here in the nineteenth century. They won't die out; they won't be weeded out. This domestic woman is a great stumbling block in your modern woman's way. Man treats you precisely as the Chinese would were you a missionary, would receive your new spiritual deity–that is to say, with all politeness, with uplifted hands and drooping eyes of adoration, and then go home and plump on their knees before their own private little gods behind the kitchen door. This same old-fashioned domestic woman lives and moves and has her being in her home! Really, Kate, how long is this transition to last? Whose fault is it that it lasts so long?" "Petruchio, as you are one of those men who come in with the mob at the end of a reform, I advise you to shut your ears to the tumult, and attend only to your business." "But how can I shut my ears? The air is fill with the protests of women. Do tell what it is they want. What is it that they do not want? What is it that is needed in the right training of girls that is not needed just as imperatively in the right training of boys? What makes the difference then between the position in the world of young men and young women when we men have always granted, and always will, that neither sex is naturally the superior nor the inferior of the other in essentials?"

"The difference," says Katharina, "lies wholly in the idea that underlies the teaching of each, for from the day the boy chips the shell until he dies he is taught, he breathes it in the air, he learns it by perpetual hard experience, that she is to be taken care of all her days. Nearly every girl in our fashionable boarding schools and in our public schools has the day, when the prince will arrive and carry her off, fixed in her horizon like the light to which the mariner steers. What marriage means, what it implicates of duty to herself, to her husband, and to her possible children, she never thinks, nor is she required to think."

"It seems strange to me, Kate, that women will submit to live with us men when they are feeling that we are depriving them of their rights, and that man is the enemy of woman's best advancement. If we were told the history of any race which for three thousand years had lived in daily intercourse with another with a chance for the same culture, with the same language, seated side by side in perfect social equality, and which had yet remained in a state of subjection, debarred from rights which they had held to be theirs, we should be apt to decide sharply enough that the rights are not fitted to them by nature, or that their cowardice and hesitation to grasp their rights deserved the serfdom. There have been women soldiers, judges, merchants in every country and in every age, women who were leaders in the state in war or in intrigue, and the readiness with which the ground was ceded to them, the applause with which their slightest merit was welcomed, proved how easily climed was the path they trod, and how accessible to every woman if she had chosen to climb it. It was not altogether the fault of the obdurate rock that it hid for so many years the gifts of manhood from the boy Theseus, but his own flaccid muscles and uncertain will which failed to overturn it. When the hour came to use them, the rock was put aside, the golden sandals and magic sword, which were to make his path easy and clear to him, lay underneath."

"The transcendental inspiration you men have in guessing why God ever made [Page 548]  woman, the knowledge you have of the secret of our power, is appalling. We have been told by our self-appointed advisers how we may become charming, and in what way we are in danger of losing our charms. That we are the last and most perfect work of God, sprung from the rib of Adam, nearest the heart, we are told, and at length after six thousand years of tuition we are flattered with having risen to an equality with man. The efforts to equalize with man's woman's wages, to multiply her opportunities, to claim her interests in the politics of human rights, to secure her alleviating presence in the rude scenes of republicanism, these, Petruchio, are of small consequences to men."

"You have sprung so many points on me, Kate, I can only hope to see one at a time. I wish I might answer you as a man who honors woman and longs for her noble power in all that man holds dear. Let us look at equal rights first. The assertion that the sexes are equal is true if rightly understood, but the way the word equal is often used it does not covey the exact truth and leads to confusion. When we say that five dollars in gold is equal to five dollars in silver, we do not mean that there is equality of weight, but of value. The statement that Napoleon was equal to Milton is true. An examination of the two brains would show a difference of mental organization so that in some respects one would be found superior to the other, and at the same time inferior in other points, but the value of mental endowments in one would be equal to that of the other. The only kind of equality that can be said to exist between the sexes is that which exists between objects that are unlike. If in addition to what woman can do now, she could compete successfully with men wherein they have the pre-eminence, she would not be his equal, but his superior. There is no danger of this, as God has provided a regular system of compensation, so that when one person covets that he has not with the idea that it is better than that actually possessed, he loses the old in acquiring the new. It is not desirable that husband and wife should stand on different planes, so that the mind of one is so far above the other that there is no point of contact; but if their minds are on the same level, the blending of these diverse characteristics produces a union which can not be readily sundered. If men and women were alike this world would resemble the monotonous plane whereon there is a superabundance of a certain kind of equality. The aggressive and tedious assertions of woman's ability to do this, that or the other work in the world are superfluous, or would be so but for modern myopia. In the outer world of fact, of demonstration, of volition, tangible proofs and causalities and material processes, man is supreme, while in that more subtle sphere where lie spiritual convictions which overtop our actual life, and lead up from grossness to glory, woman is the priestess. Are these two spheres independent of each other? Are they not conjoined indissolubly? It is a mistake, and takes from us men one of our supreme rights, that which places antagonism between the two. There should be between them harmony as sweet as that which moves the concentric rings of Saturn, which I viewed the other night. Untaught by the presence and inspiration of woman, we men would soon become cold, dry petrifactions, constantly obeying the centripetal force of our lives and ending by alluring self. And I take it, without man's firmness and strength, woman, in whom the centrifugal force is stronger, would remain a weak, vacillating creature, without self-poise. Cultivate her intellect and his heart, and the healthy action and reaction consequent upon such a balance of forces, you have the true relationship established between the sexes–the relationship which the Creator pronounced good. Do not misunderstand me, Kate. I say, let woman, if she will, measure the stellar distances, study mechanical principles or the learned professions, make a picture or write a book, and there are women, not a few, true and noble, who have done all this, but let her never for such as these abdicate her own nobler work, neglecting the greater for the less. If a woman has a special gift let her exercise it. If she has a particular mission let her work it out. Few women, though, are of this elect class, just as few men are. But I would have woman never forget that it is not for what they may possibly add to the sum of human knowledge that the world values them primarily. That [Page 549]  some man is as likely to do as not. But what women fail to do in their own peculiar sphere, no man can possibly do. Did you ever think, Kate, that woman may be able to do anything that man does in his sphere, if she be trained, but it is inconceivable that man could do a woman's work, essentially that which is most womanly? Before you answer this, let us look at your second point, where you generously and most practically inquire about the maidens by choice and the maidens by necessity. What are they to do, and how are they to live in this world? Just here is where one of the rights of man should be emphasized. There is one hard fact which women are apt to shirk, but which they must after all–that is, that in the pitiless economies of nations, the question is not the worker, but the value of the work. When Rosa Bonheur or Jean Ingelow bring their wares to market, the question of sex does not intrude itself in the matter of payment. If a woman has taken a desk in a counting-room, let her do her duty like a man, expecting no favors because she is a woman. She has no right to stay at home when it rains, and no right to leave before her hour because she can not cross certain places after dark, no right not to expect to be 'blown up' (using the expression which suits us men best) when she makes wrong entries. It is one reason for less wages that woman will not submit to conditions that men have to submit to, because their uncertain future makes them careless and less interested in their work. Once let woman face fate, and not flirt with it, and this question of 'less wages' will emerge from its present muddle. In the matter of wages, as between husband and wife, the husband's wages are not simply payment from the capitalist for his work, but for his wife's also. The money he earns the wife applies to the household and their common wants. The wife in the truest sense is her husband's most important business partner, his partner in a more complete and comprehensive sense than any other he can have. The household is her department of the business of life, as her husband's is the store, the manufactory or the office. If she fail to act constantly upon this principle she is an unfaithful and untrustworthy partner, and is as much to blame as if her husband were to neglect his stock, his shipping, his contract, his client. Why should the husband be expected to manage his part of the business upon sound and correct business principles while his wife-partner is letting hers go at loose ends, with a shiftlessness which, if he should imitate, would ruin them in a year? Now what is the principle upon which every good business man manages his affairs? Why, simply that of sovereignty. He keeps, if he is a sensible man, his stock under lock and key, and extracts a rigid accountability in its use."

"But," says Kate, "we housekeepers would not dare lock up our butter, eggs or sugar. We could not keep a girl a day if we doled out our stores and held our servants accountable for their use."

"Suppose a manufacturer of jewelry should reason as you do, Kate. He says, 'I can not keep my help satisfied unless I give them free access to my stock of gold and diamonds. I must throw open my tool drawers, and I must not ask how much material this or that manufactured article has taken to make.' You know that man would have to shut up shop in less than a year. Now I still ask, Kate, is it fair, is it right that while the husband superintends his business himself the wife partner surrenders her responsibility into the hands of ignorant and irresponsible subordinates? Thus conducting the household on purely business principles does not necessarily entail upon you the least participation in the labor of the family. It does not absolutely require your personal presence at the scene of those labors, although the woman who considers it beneath her dignity to go into her kitchen has no more business to undertake to keep house than the master mechanic who is too proud to enter his workshop has to try to carry on a shop. The absolutely essential thing is that yours should be the controlling and directing mind, and that to you everyone in your employ should be held rigorously responsible."

"I wish," says Kate, "that you would specialize a little. You men in laying down your instructions to us women do it in the most stupendously general way, which we are sometimes tempted to think betrays a condition of mind which lacks experimental knowledge." [Page 550] 

"Well, I readily own up to little experimental knowledge in housekeeping, but I am only suggesting that housekeeping should be conducted on the same principle on which we men conduct business. And first, to specialize, you should tell your servants that employing them at stipulated wages to do certain work their time belongs to you. Tell them distinctly that if you prefer to keep your stores under lock and key it is not because you suspect their integrity, but that you consider it your business as a housekeeper to know what is the cost of living. And secondly, although the plan of keeping a book of family accounts only belongs incidentally to the main subject under discussion, it is so important that I can not refrain from a special mention of it. It is the simplest thing in the world, not taking on an average more than ten minutes a day. For reference in case of a disputed bill it is invaluable, while its influence in keeping down expenses is wonderfully wholesome. It would be just as safe for the merchant to neglect his cash book as for his domestic partner, who undertakes to do her business properly, to neglect her cash book. I believe, Kate, that no higher compliment can a husband pay to his wife than to say, 'She is an excellent manager of my home, finely as she has been educated; she knows everything, and how to direct what should be done, from the private family dinner to a sumptuous entertainment."

"You may add, if you please, Petruchio, that woman has done nearly everything that has been done in the peaceful arts from the dawn of history up to the present era, as you will have to acknowledge, if you have examined at all intelligently the Woman's Building at this wonderful fair of this wonderful nation. In all the earlier ages woman established the home, built the house, reared the family, provided food, tilled the ground, garnered the crops, provided materials for raiment, spun thread and wove cloth, designed and manufactured clothing, cared for the sick and educated the children. Modern civilization, developing commerce and manufactures and improving agriculture, has diverted the attention of men from fighting and hunting, and given into their hands the task of providing food and raiment and luxuries for the family. Indeed, the history of civilization may be regarded as a history of the transfer of these tasks from the hands of women in the household to the hands of men in the factory, the mill and the shop. And may not the single monotonous occupation to which women are now confined account for that which seems to militate against domestic peace?"

"Why, Kate, the science of domestic economy is one of the noblest arts, the handmaid of domestic and, therefore, national health, riches and welfare, and worthy the highest powers of the most gifted of our women. You re-read the story of Ruth Pinch as given in 'Martin Chuzzlewit.' It is enough to make one in love with cooking and keeping house. The pretty girl does everything with such grace and alertness, her whole soul is so bent on infusing comfort into everything, she is so unselfish, so wise, so unconscious of her wisdom, so good, and knows so little about her goodness, that she is one of the sweetest of Dickens' many lovely, thoroughly human, women. It is a pitiful truth that we may become homeless without being actually houseless, for it does look as though the family or homekeeping was fast becoming a matter of temporary arrangement. Home, once a woman's temple, is now her prison. The sweet, quiet virtues which were once her greatest charm are now the badge of her slavery. Strong to do, she is weak to bear, and while she can nerve herself to perform the most revolting offices of a hospital nurse, and take an active part in the most ghastly operations, she can not live under the comparative monotony of her home life. Duty is not in her vocabulary now. She writes work over where it stood. And, Kate, I fear work means simply excitement and publicity. Is there not danger that not a grace, not a gift will be kept in the maturing shade, that not a violet hides behind its leaves? All the treasure which once used to be kept in sacred shrines are now laid in the shop window for everyone to stare at, and all buy who will. A pretty piping voice, that can sing passably well a drawing-room ballad, hires herself for public display. You hear girls say they are hoping to become another Camilla Urso because they can strike a true note on the violin. Many a girl who can draw [Page 551]  well enough for a parlor album plunges into an exhibit, and dreams of fame through her art, and one with the faintest faculty for situation dashes off a novel which is to bring her name very near to that of George Eliot. While I sincerely, deeply sympathize with every reform which tends to afford a fair field for exertion for those women who are forced to select for themselves a trade or profession, I deprecate everything that allures those who possess the inestimable privilege of a home to desert their fittest sphere of action. You will smile, Kate, when I say that the manhood of man must suffer some loss when woman has appropriated a portion of it; for its nobler attributes are created and evoked by the duty and privilege of ministering to her wants, and fortifying and protecting her. I believe woman is a complement, not a substitute, for man. Is it, my Kate, so beneath the glory of a woman to be one whose society is sought with avidity by the opposite sex, whose most ardent champions are men, at whose bidding men are prompt to respond, and in whose companionship men seem to find peculiar happiness? A woman whose husband will think her adorable, it matters little whether her eyes be large or light, small or dark, her features classic or irregular, whether her tongue be eloquent or she be given to silence, she hides within her being that subtle something which emphasizes the fact that men have some rights which women are bound to respect. I can not express it better than to say that, while she is restful, at the same time she coaxes out ambitions which we never dreamed were ours. She seems to have the grace of leisure. She is never too busy. She would inject a little bit of duncehood into our American life–into this restless desire for study. If she be fortunate enough to possess children, she assimilates the spirit of the age and interprets it to them, and in them evolution seems to take strides swift and sure and forward. Should we give small credit to her who has kept holy and watered with the rain of deep feeling this acrid, dusty highway of civilization, and instructed her nature so that it will bring forth beautiful June blossoms?

                      "'Happy he!
With such a mother; faith in womankind
Beats with his blood, and truth in all things high
Comes easy to him, and though he trip and fall,
He shall not blind his soul with clay!'

"You spoke, Kate, of securing woman's alleviating presence in the rude scenes of republicanism. I suppose you have reference to her participation in politics. History tells us that when the contrast between the sexes has been least marked, the tenderer one does not seem to have gained purity or the physically stronger elevation. The Spartan maids who exercised in public unrobed, did not always, as Plato fondly hoped, wear virtue for a garment. The mothers of the Partheniæs doubtlessly acted from patriotism, but less strong-minded women would have considered their honor paramount. The idea of marriage, of the natural choice of each other by one man and one woman, to unite and form one separate family, seems to be as naturally implanted in the human race as does the idea of language or religion, and if the family is one as the United States government is one, then it would be as absurd to send two representatives to the polls as it would be to send two representatives or ministers to Great Britain to act on their individual responsibilities. So long as a woman elects her own husband, and she can sometimes take her choice out of several candidates, it is her own fault if she is not properly represented."

"And have American women, whether married or single, any vital share or interest in this grand free government of ours?" asked Kate.

"With all the emphasis of a profound conviction I answer, yes. Such a touching and intimate interest as no women ever had before in any government under the sun, because the principles embodied in it and represented by it have made her what she is, and they alone can make her what she hopes to be. If it be true that the position of woman in society is a sure test of its civilization, then is our America in the van of progress. Nowhere else in the world is the ideal of womanhood so chivalrously [Page 552]  worshiped and protected. Nowhere else is she so respected, obeyed and beloved. In three exterior forms of action women excel–talk, manner and dress. It is in talk–yes, in all three that American women take the lead. Great as is your proficiency in the handling of manner and dress, it is by talk alone that you exercise a conquering force. I know that dress and manner are regarded as indispensable auxiliaries, but none except the foolish place them in the front rank of combat, while every woman who merits being counted as a social artist, takes care in using them as but subordinates to her speech. In society our American women are extremely self-poised, reasonable and capable of defending their own opinions and of abetting their desires, and as you talk more and laugh more you lead and dictate more to your brother man. It is to you women that men must go for exhilaration, elevation, brightening and appetizing, and above all, strengthening to do our duty, and contentment while we are doing it. Kate, I do wish that men's rights could be regarded just a little–talked about, sung about, prayed about, and preached about."

"Men's rights! What do you mean, Petruchio? Men have always had all the rights there were to have, and what more can you cry for?"

"My dear Kate, this is the age of woman worship. Women are angels and men are mostly demons. Our modern literature makes all virtues feminine and all vices masculine. A well-formed, fair-faced, sweet-tempered, gentle-spoken woman, if young and accomplished, is an angel, though her heart may be cold, selfish, incapable of a generous emotion; an angel, though utterly regardless of the misery she ruthlessly inflicts upon others. What with women's journals and women's clubs and women's colleges and women's departments, and women's this and that, we are beginning to fear entire exclusion from the human family. Some one has said that we are in danger of forgetting that 'a woman is a human being first and a woman afterward.' But we have one hope and one consolation, and that is in the motto on the letter-paper of the Woman's Branch of the World's Congress Auxiliary of the Columbian Exposition, viz.: 'Not things, but men.' We are still recognized as a man and brother. For this I for one am devoutly thankful. I confess to you, Kate, that I have just joined the P. A. S. O. M. T. N. R., which in this age of cabalistic nomenclature, means the 'Protective Association for Securing to Oppressed Men Their Neglected Rights.' I have never liked the 'Taming of the Shrew' in Shakespeare version, and would like to get out an edition of my own. There is something so out of keeping with all reality in it. Whoever knew a man in the better circles of society have his way by any domineering method as against the contrary by his wife? I believe there are cases, such as that of the one-time invincible John L. Sullivan, where man's superior muscular action is put into play to secure him what he is pleased to term his rights. But you know, Kate, that it is not considered good form for a man in the best society to beat his wife. This puts him at a certain disadvantage. If he is not permitted to show his superiority in the sense physical, where then can he show it? There is something so far-fetched in the whole conception of a man's having his way that it seems to me that the play lacks human interest. Perhaps there will be a land some time–

"'Where wives will all obedient be,
And men will have their way.'

"Meanwhile, Kate, there is another thing that you enjoy, and which seems to be denied to us men, for the most part, at least. I refer to the literary circles all over our land. Of the members of the Chautauqua and kindred circles, what an infinitesimal fraction are men. I know that we have, as a rule, less ability and taste for this sort of thing, but the reason is that we have been repressed for generations. Give us a chance. When you women gather to hear a play of Shakespeare, or to throw additional obscurity on Browning, or see what extravagant panegyric can do for Walt Whitman, men look on with envious eyes. When there are 9 o'clock breakfasts and formal luncheons and coffees and 5 o'clock teas, we men must rest content to stay without the portals. The one persistent and unquestioned right which we seem to [Page 553]  have left, is to supply the ducats for the same. You know, Kate, that if you attend the fine literary association, of which you are a bright and particular star, I must meanwhile in my office earn enough to buy the paper and ink with which you write those essays which delight all readers. If you will bear with me, Katharina, I would like to tell you of two or three prominent faults of your sex which injure and restrict our rights as men. The most mischievous and glaring, and the most ruinous, is extravagance. I knew you would look aghast at this, and ask me for an account of the money I spend for tobacco, etc., but you should be charitable toward some of our habits, seeing that we do not interfere with yours."

"Bless me, Petruchio, what habits have we, I should like to know?"

"A multitude, Kate. I don't know the half. Crochet work, embroidery, painting–tea is milder than tobacco, but your systems are more sensitive. Then there are powders, perfumes, eau-de-cologne, lavender, verbena, heliotrope, and what not, against all of which I have nothing to say, because their odors are nearly equal to that of a fine Havana cigar. I would be glad if this feminine love for color and fragrance was more common among men. But there are curious differences of taste. The peculiar fascination in smoking is not in the taste of the weed, but in the sight of the smoke. It is called the ear of corn which we hold out to induce into harmony the skittish thoughts which are running loose. I understand that knitting is the great feminine narcotic. You will agree with me, Kate, that this habit is not very important in comparison with those vices of character. Is not the use of the weed less objectionable than those systemic habits of envy, avarice, hypocrisy, or the vice of extravagance? Wastefulness has almost become a trait of society. American women, especially, are profuse and lavish in money and dress, in equipage, in furniture, in houses, in entertainments. Perhaps the largeness, the immensity of our land's resources and materials, as well as the wonderful national advance we have already made, tends to cultivate in our people a feeling of profusion and the habit of extravagant display. When fortunes do not arrive by magic, but must be built up painfully, slowly, at the expense of the nerve and sinew, the brain and the heart of the builder, and when a close attention to money-making is rapidly becoming a national badge and is in danger of eating out entirely what is of infinitely more value than wealth, a high national integrity and conscience, and sinking the immaterial and the intellectual in the material and the sensual. It is, then, by you, the women of America, that the men shall have saved to them their rights. Great financial crisises in which colossal schemes burst like bubbles; commercial bankruptcies, in which honorable names are bandied on the lips of common rumor and white reputations are blackened by public suspicion; minds that started in life with pure and honest principles, determined to win fortune by the straight path of rectitude, gradually growing distorted and ending by enthroning gold in the place made vacant by departed virtues; hearts that were once responsive to the fair and beautiful in life and in the universe, that were wont to thrill through and through at a noble deed or fine thought, now pulseless and hard as the nether millstone; souls that once believed in God, Heaven, and good, now worshiping commercial success and its exponent, money, and living and dying with their eager eyes fixed dustward. And yet, if this is to be checked, it must be begun in the home and by its guardian woman.

"Another thing, Kate, which you women do, and which I think defraud us of our rights, is your wild chase after, and copying of, European fashions, habits and styles of living. We are accused of being a nation of copyists, and it is more than half true. And why it should be I can not understand. I am thankful, as I look at this wonderful "Dream City," that we are beginning to have an art and a literature our very own. Let us have the fashion, as well, which shall be distinctively American. Not what is sensible or becoming, but what is the fashion, does the American woman buy. Not what she can afford to purchase, but what her neighbors have, is generally the criterion. The aping of aristocratic pretentions has been a much ridiculed weakness of Americans. It is certain that American society needs republicanizing in all its grades. [Page 554]  This is another right which men look to women to preserve–the effort to renew society in the natural simplicity of our republican institutions. America has need of you, Kate. Man has need of you. We suffer for the need, as well as for the power, of loving and being loved. This is even greater in man than in woman, hence the chief reason why she almost always controls him. Man craves for the ideal, suffers for the want of it, but he dies not knowing how to get it. I say, Kate, that not even yet has womankind, in spite of her irrepressible longing to utter the clear, free, elevated speech, that shall yet stir the pulses of the world. I can not better tell you what I believe is needed than to close with the words of that true American woman:

"'If thou wouldst have happiness, choose neither fame, which doth not long abide, nor power, which stings the hand that wields it; nor gold, which glitters, but never glorifies; but choose thou love, and hold it forever in thy heart of hearts; for love is the purest and the mightiest force in the universe, and once it is thine, all other gifts shall be added unto thee. Love that is passionate, yet reverent, gentle, yet strong, selfish in desiring all, yet generous in giving all, love of man for woman, of woman for man, of parent for child, of friend for friend–when this is born in the soul the desert blossoms of the rose; straightway new wishes, hopes, sweet longings and pure ambitions spring into being like green shoots that lift their tender heads in sunny places, and if the soil be kind they grow stronger and more beautiful as each glad day laughs in the rosy sky.'"

[Page 544] 

Mrs. Emma Pratt Mott is a native of Michigan. Her parents were Dr. and Mrs. Frank H. Pratt. She was educated in Boston and Elmira, New York. She married the Rev. Henry Elliott Mott, a Presbyterian minister of high standing and ability. Her principal literary works are magazine articles and journalistic work. Her profession is that of a Shakespearean Teacher. In religious faith she is Presbyterian. She is a graceful writer and speaker, a beautiful and accomplished woman, of great popularity as a social and literary leader in every community in which she sojourns. As a devoted and beloved wife, she is a model for the world, and a pillar of strength to her husband in his most noble work. Her present postoffice address is Buffalo, New York.

[Page 544] 

* The full title of the address as delivered was, "Katharina" in "The 'Taming of the Shrew' or The Rights of Men."


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom