"We, the Women." by Miss Cara Reese.
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. 328-331.
|MISS CARA REESE.|
In the belief that forces set in motion can never be recalled, shackles unbound can never be replaced, and that what may apply to one aggregate of women may apply to all–allowance made for laws, customs and beliefs, inherited or acquired, which may hasten or retard–we, the women of the United States, with the grip of the universe on heart and hand, pause, in this the hour of triumph, and question with a thrill of pain, "What of the Future?" Years of effort have found culmination in a proper and befitting display. Never in the history of nations has there been such revelation of woman's capability and deeds as in this gala year. But commencement is almost over. Work has passed examination. Carefully prepared speeches have been delivered. The world has seen, heard, and applauded. With the end comes a beginning.
Conservative women, and there have been quite a number who have distributed their time to good advantage in the sessions of these various congresses, discern in the new beginning signs of coming defeat. The desire for supremacy, the wild rush for leadership, the greed for gain, the love of notoriety, the clamor for political recognition, are straws to them that point the way to loss of womanly dignity and refinement, the collapse of domestic tranquillity, and the moral weakening of the home. [Page 329]
The enthusiasts "pressed down, shaken together and running over" with things seen and heard from their seventh heaven, predict another end. "We are living in the dawn of the millennium," they say. "What need of further conquest." "Behold the dawn of a magnificent future," cries the suffragist; "save Kansas, and we, the women live to rule, henceforth and forever."
With some hesitation, a representative of the wage-earning women of the day ventures to define a pathway through the chaos resultant from the general upheaval that is everywhere bringing women up to light and civilization, thankful, bewildered, dizzy or inflated with pride as the case may be, and, but for a growing conviction that a proper and rational settling of the condition of affairs would be a long and tedious process without laborers in the field, both tongue and pen would have maintained silence.
The new era is at hand, but not that of the perfection that bringeth into the kingdom, nor that, it is hoped, that means the reversal of the positions of men and women, nor that which may herald destruction or defeat. But an era, God grant, of equal rights, woman with woman, the home with the world, domestic tranquillity with the public welfare, God with the minds he has created. The day has gone by for the expression of that sentiment which surrounds the business woman with the halo of a glorified independence, and places her on a pedestal in the market-place, the envy and admiration of the stay-at-homes, a spectacle to beget jealousy, covetousness, heavy-heartedness and despair in her purseless sisters, and in the end the lever, perhaps, that overturns some happy home. The day has gone by for the expression of that sentiment that ignores the practical side of the life of wife and mother, and pleads only for that Divine calling, which, with its ceaseless panorama of pots and pans, cradles and tubs, butchers, bakers and mantua-makers, supposably heralds an estate but little lower than the angels.
The new era finds women divided into two great classes, wage-earners and homemakers. Upon the proper adjustment of these depends future serenity. The limit of tension is now at hand. Relations have been strained to the utmost. Surface indications prove the wage-earning class the stronger. The flaunted dollar is proving the magnet to draw the wife from the husband, the mother from her children, and fair young girls from the safe shelter of the home. Nay, more. The signs of the times prove that husbands, fathers, sons and brothers are not averse. The husband makes room for the desk of his wife, the father finds place for his daughter's typewriter, brothers skirmish for positions for their sisters, the small boy greedily fingers the pennies that mother has earned, and the home goes to destruction. What need of detail? Thousands of roomers in the large cities, cramped housekeeping in apartment flats, bear silent testimony. The dusty parlor, the cluttered kitchen, the half made beds, the hurried meals are familiar objects today in the homes where the women have gone over to the hustling world, while for her pains, the thrifty stay-at-home, who has planned and worked and ordered affairs in true gospel fashion, must smother a sigh as within her own household she hears the commendation bestowed on the money-making women on the other side of the wall, and her home-loving daughter creeps to her room disheartened and discouraged at the thinly veiled hint of father or brother–go thou and do likewise.
The unappreciated home-makers of today, and, oh men and brothers, how many there are! watch the career of the wage-earning woman with hungry eyes. The wage-earning woman sighs for the comforts of home, but views home-life with distrust. Both are discontented, and in that discontent lies the leaven that will work future destruction. This discontent, so universal and so widely recognized as the one evil that threatens the success of the women of the future, owes its strength to the sharply defined line that exists between the earner and the home-maker. Not the dividing line of caste, as formerly. Everywhere the working woman is compelling the attention and respect of the women of so-called leisure. She finds cordial recognition in the homes of wealth. She is an honored guest at public functions. Her opinion is [Page 330] asked on affairs of moment. Her name graces committees and boards. She is sought after, consulted and socially accepted. But the still sharper division, all the more distinct in that it is largely imaginary, with pocketbook and independence on one hand and unappreciated home work on the other.
All honor to the woman, who, when necessity compels, will bravely take up the burden of business. All honor to that consecration that will force woman from the home in order to better protect that home. All honor to her who feels that she could not give a satisfactory account of her stewardship in the great day if her talent be not put to usury. But there are other things to be taken into consideration before such a line of action becomes universal. On entrance into the business world woman becomes conversant with much that was to her a sealed book before. Knowledge at first startling soon becomes commonplace, womanly reserve wears away, feminine graces vanish, the cold practical atmosphere in time dulls the sensitive nature, and the woman worker becomes a money-making, fame-seeking machine; an ingrate, often forgetful of friends and favors; a cold, selfish, calculating automatum, and above all a chronic discontent.
On two things the woman-heart thrives. Love and ambition. The first the natural woman prefers. The second is an educated preference, against whose craving the first becomes flat, stale and unprofitable. The first means limited homage; the second the plaudits of the world. Into the circumstances that have led up to the educated preference it may be best not to inquire. Years of suffering and sacrifice, of oppression and suppression, had driven the woman of the past to the wall. In her desperation she turned and fled to the world, her one eager thought to secure comfort for those nearer and dearer to her than life itself. Now the aim is largely selfish, and as she views the passiveness with which her labors are accepted by those who should be her protectors, and notes the tendency to effeminacy in those who should be the strong ones of earth, discontent is keeping pace with her every stride, and playing havoc with homes and happiness. Satan finds mischief for idle women to do is applicable no longer. The women are being educated to death, organized to death and worked to death, and the stronger the pressure in any one the greater the discontent and dissatisfaction.
To no class of women, perhaps, is this state of affairs more apparent than to those connected with the daily press. Brought into intimate relationship with all classes and conditions of women; those in all stations of business, from the shop-girl to the head and brains of some mammoth establishment; from mistresses in homes of humble degree to those of princely scope; and standing as they do on the outside, viewing with unbiased mind the movements in all departments of life, noting now the advance and now the backward step, impartially they weigh the condition of affairs and sum it all up in the words, "social unrest."
Social unrest! Oh, women of America, aim for suffrage if that will bring contentment. Pray for the millennium if that will bring a reign of peace. Educate, organize, but ever hand in hand and heart to heart for home, country, and God. Home for the wage-earning woman as well as for the wife and mother. Home for her who, out in the busy world, is so fast losing those graces which, like fragrant blossoms, should twine about the woman's soul. Home for the young girls with their pure hearts and innocent minds. Join hands. The business woman needs the sympathy and counsel of the home-maker, not her wail of discontent The home-maker needs the broadening glimpse into the sunlight and shadow of life which the business woman can give, not the aggravating taunt of independence or boast of fame and fortune. Each is responsible for domestic tranquillity; and domestic tranquillity generally assured, the public welfare will take care of itself. In this growing discontent woman is fast losing that happy, sunny disposition, once her greatest charm. The "sweet" woman of today is the artificial one. The "lovable woman "is the one with the stereotyped smile and caress; and while now and then a thoroughly happy and contented woman is found who may be placed in the category of "motherly," she comes like angel visits, few and far between, and does not belong to the younger class. [Page 331]
Seek contentment. Crave not worldly rush. Better the pinch of occasional sacrifice than the loss of womanly dignity and reserve. Be natural. Be what James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier poet, in his "Neighborly Poems," beautifully accords to his friend, Erasmus Wilson:
Jest natchurl, and the more hurraws
You git, the less you know the cause–
Like as ef God Hisself stood by,
Where best on earth hain't half-knee high,
And seein' like, an' knowin' He
'S the Only Great Man really,
You're jest content to size your height
With any feller-man's in sight.
Courage, women of America. You have fought great battles, you have won great victories. Now look to the homes and firesides. The present is yours, the future belongs to God.
Miss Cara Reese was born, raised and is working out a successful career in Pittsburgh, Pa. She is the only daughter of Abram and Mary Godwin Reese, both natives of Pennsylvania. Miss Reese has been educated in the public and private schools of Pittsburgh, and graduated from the Institute Department of Bucknell University. Lewisburg, Pa. Higher education was continued under special teachers, not forgetting the accomplishments of music and art. Her chosen profession is active newspaper work. For over six years Miss Reese has been identified with the interests of the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette. Miss Reese is particularly happy in public addresses. She is a member of the Shady Avenue Baptist Church, Pittsburgh. Is kind-hearted and womanly in disposition, and happy and contented in her chosen sphere. Her postoffice address is Commercial Gazette, Pittsburgh, Pa.
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