A Celebration of Women Writers

"Historic Women of Egypt." by Mrs. Caroline Gallup Reed (1821-).
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. 240-242.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 240] 



Eve, the beautiful mother of our race, with every function, physical and mental, in perfect order to transmit health and immortality to her posterity, must have trodden in its pristine verdure the soil of the wonderful land of Egypt.

Three hundred and thirty-four years after Menes, the first king of Egypt, the succession of women to the throne of Egypt was made valid, and nearly a thousand years later Nitocris, "the beautiful woman with rosy cheeks," while floating in her barge from Philæ to Memphis, beheld with pride the glory and pomp of her own people. Three hundred years after the reign of Nitocris history discloses a woman who should become the mother of nations, Sarai, the beautiful wife of the rich Chaldean Satrap Abram, journeying from the plains of Chaldea by way of Haran and Damascus toward Egypt, the seat of learning then at the zenith of its glory. So beautiful was Sarai that the princes and courtiers of Egypt reported her charms to their sovereign, who brought her to his court. In the retinue of Sarai at her departure, as one of her bondswomen, presented to her by Pharaoh, was Hagar, a magnificent Egyptian woman, who like her mistress was to become the mother of mighty nations. All of the Israelites from that day to this have looked to Sarai as their mother, and all of the Arab races and the Bedouins of the desert and the Ishmaelites of the East rejoice in being called the sons of Hagar.

A century later the famous Queen Hatasu, as she gazed from her terraced palace, and lifting her eyes northward, could see, glittering like constellations, the points of the obelisks which she had set there in honor of her father. Two-and-a-half centuries after Hatasu, in the grandest era of Egypt's glory, we see descending from the porch of the Palace of the great Rameses a princess of the blood royal with her train of maidens to bathe in the river of Egypt. There, amid the flags on the banks, she beheld a Hebrew child, a sleeping infant boy, hidden by his sister Miriam to escape the edict of the monarch who had commanded every Hebrew male child to be destroyed. The heart of the royal lady was touched with compassion. She sent Miriam for a Hebrew nurse, and his mother pressed her child to her breast again. Adopted by the Princess, taught by his mother in the knowledge and faith of his own people, Moses became the deliverer and lawgiver of his people. It was Miriam, the prophetess, the sister who had watched over him amid the rushes of the Nile, who stood by him on [Page 241]  the eastern shore of the Red Sea, and with all the women of Israel came out with timbrels and dancing to take up the great autiphon to the Song of Moses and the hosts of Israel.

Then came the Greeks to Egypt with their graceful women and modern customs, and later on, Cambyses the Persian, with his beautiful wife, true heir to the throne of Egypt, and for two hundred years the Persians had dominion, until Alexander conquered Darius at Issus. The Ptolemies brought their learning and gayety to Egypt. The Cleopatras became co-regents with the Greek kings of Egypt for half a century. It was by the seductive charms of Cleopatra VII., when Cæsar and Antony in turn were her captives, that Egypt became a Roman Province.

About this time there arrived in Egypt a family party journeying from Bethlehem. They were Joseph, a just man, the young and gentle Mother Mary, and her perfect child Jesus. They had fled to the land of Egypt to preserve the life of the Divine Child, and that Child sanctified the land by the first steps he ever trod.

Roman matrons, pagan and Christian, dwelt in Egypt for two centuries. The Empress Helena built religious houses throughout Egypt near to the ancient temple of Osiris, Horus and Pan, lifting the cross of Christ amid the emblems of heathenism.

The privacy and seclusion of the Moslem women have not prevented them from influence and intrigue in the politics of the past twelve centuries. In our days, in the triumphal pageant of the Suez Canal, the Empress Eugenie vied with Cleopatra in pomp and luxury, and the cicerones descant upon the places visited by her with as much pride as upon those associated with Cleopatra.

And what shall we say of the gentle and beautiful wife of Tewfik–his only wife? Only one who has seen her in her great palace surrounded by her maidens can fully appreciate the life of the highest woman in Egypt today. Of high breeding, and with the various accomplishments of European women of her rank, familiar with modern literature, of most affable manners and sprightly conversation, she might pass for a Parisian of the highest social talent. Her description of the devices to which she resorted to see the performers at the opera over the screens, without showing her face, was most amusing as well as historic, as an incident of Oriental customs. The Harem of the opera is as impenetrable as that of the palace or the home. As the screens were high, they could only see by standing and holding their cushions above their faces and peeping between the cushions and the screens. She talked with maternal pride of her sons, then at school in France, and exhibited their photographs. Far from envying the European princesses and American ladies, she said: "Oh I could know well but twenty or thirty men at most, and I am content with the affection and society of one. " There must indeed be a power in custom and education which could make such a woman happy and contented to have a fancy ball in the superb salons of her own royal palace, with music and flowers and feasting, filled with the beauty and chivalry of all nations, and, though herself dressed for the ball in the costume of Mary, Queen of Scots, to view the scene through a screen embroidered with palms and flowers. She saw her husband and his nobles talking and dancing with English, French and American ladies, but none of the ladies could enter the sacred precincts of her presence. The only man allowed to enter the house of a modern Egyptian woman is the physician, and then, whatever the occasion of his visit, the eunuch is always present.

In a visit to the Khedive with Lady Greenfel, whose husband, Sir Francis, is at the head of the Egyptian army, a line of Egyptian women stood in the antechamber to speak to her as she passed. Each had a petition for place or promotion in the army for husband, brother or son. Not to the wife of Tewfik within her own palace, but to the wife of the English commander were the appeals of the Egyptian women made.

The prominent and presiding women of a few years ago were Lady Baring, now Lady Cromer; Lady Greenfel, the young, beautiful but unconventional wife of Gen. Forrester Walker, and Lady Charles Beresford. The Civil Service, the Army of [Page 242]  Occupation, the Egyptian army and navy were there to guard the interests of Egypt. Young Englishmen of noble families dance and flirt with English girls at private balls and clubs. Social rivalries and social mistakes in a system not yet crystallized conventionally make as much gossip as when Cæsar and Antony and the Romans entered upon the social platform before the Ptolemies had departed.

While I was in Egypt a censor came from England to review the armies and to define some lines of military and social etiquette, which caused unreserved comment. But the highest power had spoken, and though a Briton may scold yet he obeys. When the Duke of Cambridge, the commander-in-chief of the English armies, reprimanded a young officer who forgot to order his company to salute, saying, "You spend time in dancing which should be spent in studying your tactics," all the army approved. When he said to the pretty wife of the general commander of the Army of Occupation, who drove upon the parade ground with a young girl in a pony cart, "Madam, you are the wife of the highest military officer in Egypt. You represent the women of England, and you should sustain the dignity of the situation. In this pageant on this day only Lady Baring should precede you. Your equipage, with all the pomp you could command, with your runners and your mounted postilions, should have been next to hers, and preceded Lady Greenfel and all others. You must acquaint yourself with the rules, responsibilities and duties public and social of your position; and, Madam, if you flirt, which I suppose you must, let it be with your husband's equal, a major or a general–let it not be with your husband's aid-de-camp." I did not hear it, but authority and all Cairo affirm that her ingenious reply was, "I do not know what your grace can mean!"

At the time of my visit there were sojourning in Egypt very many American ladies, some who had filled at home the highest position which society and the government can give. One had entered the White House at Washington a young girl, and taken position, not as wife or daughter, but niece of the President of the United States. No authority ever gave a reprimand to her, no censor ever found a flaw in her administration.

Egypt is now trodden by women, and one who has just departed this life, Miss Amelia B. Edwards, has done more to discover and reveal to others the interesting story of this land than any other woman who ever lived.

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Mrs. Caroline Gallup Reed was born in Albany County, New York, August 5, 1821. Her parents were the Hon. Albert Gallup and Eunice Smith Gallup, both descended from the founders of Connecticut. She was educated at the School of St. Peters Church, Albany, N. Y., and at the school of the Misses Carter, Albany. After four years at the Albany Female Academy graduated in 1839, and has traveled several times in Europe and in the East, spending the winter of 1891 and 1892 in Egypt. She married in 1851 the Rev. Sylvanus Reed, a priest of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Her special work has been in the interest of the Episcopal Church, the care of her family and of the Reed School, New York City, which was founded in 1864, and has graduated many of the most accomplished women in this country. She has written many essays on various topics. Her profession has been for thirty years that of a teacher arid head of a school. In religious faith she is a member of the Anglican branch of the Catholic Church. Her postoffice address is East Street, New York City, N. Y.


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 Mark Ockerbloom.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom