A Celebration of Women Writers

"A New Field for Women." by Mrs. Julia Edwards Sherman (1845-).
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. 670-673.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 670] 



"From the rising of the sun even until the going down of the same," the marvel of life and the mystery of death is an ever discussed and ever unsettled question. One of intense, of unending interest, but happily not so hopeless of solution is the so-called "woman question."

Man and his destiny and mission we accept as any every-day fact. We expect him to work, to be strong mentally and physically. He has, as a matter of course, to do with industrial, educational and political life. Business and moneyed interests, from little to big, seem his born province. From the dawn of creation it was clearly demonstrated that man was to till the soil, blast the rock, hew the timber. He was to be preacher, teacher, merchant, a skilled artificer; and nowadays when he chooses to encroach upon our domain we even accept him without hue and cry as our dressmaker and our domestic, and we must say that we usually like him in these capacities and wish there were more of him. I wonder if he would as gracefully accept us as his tailor? Sometimes as "lord of creation" we honor and admire man, and we always used to love and marry him, but alas! for poor man! such cases threaten to become rather sporadic.

But woman and her province! What an unending subject! In times long past, save in her own narrow sphere, ostracized and ignored; in times present, revered and honored. What she is, what she ought to be and do, what she will be and do, are topics inexhaustible, of talk, thought and song.

"Fair Woman's World" is no longer confined to the fashionable and social columns of our leading journals; but under educational, professional and political notes, her frequent and usually worthy mention is no longer ignored, and when she is overlooked, why all that she has to do is to start a newspaper of her own devoted entirely to her own interests.

Right or wrong–created for this, that or the other purpose or vocation in life–certain it is that womankind today has established her own and her sisters' inalienable right to do anything that she can competently and honestly accomplish. She is indeed all along the lines of life successfully carving out her own career, much to her own satisfaction and oftentimes to the amazement and generous admiration of man, who, in my opinion, is maligned when accused of antagonistic propensities toward his sister man. [Page 671] 

In short, whether Eve was made from one of Adam's true or false ribs, as they are termed in physiology, matters little; for certain it is that in this good year of 1893 we must concede to Mrs. Adam her full quota of ribs, and the most prejudiced; if such there be, must admit that they are attached to just as good and stiff a backbone as any modern Adam can boast of possessing.

I need not enumerate the splendid achievements of our sisters, nor need I go into detail to show you the many ways, the many fields in which countless numbers today are earning honest bread, and I am happy to add, in some instances, are also winning health, wealth and fame. Suffice it briefly to remind you, that the professionals and literary ranks alone number over two hundred thousand women. Six thousand are in postoffices in this land, aside from that mighty army of shop women and girls, office clerks, stenographers and accountants, those in factories, and especially teachers; also the few who are engaged in real estate, mercantile pursuits, even railroading, etc. I do not know how great a proportion, but very many of these women are doubtless breadwinners not from choice, but necessity, which compelled them to put aside their sentiment, their cherished ideals, and to bend all their energies to the stern practicalities of life. All honor to this class.

Another class today enters the business world, not quite so impelled by necessity, but some definite object in life is a vent for their restless energy, and to them a happy solution of their destiny.

A few yet higher in the social scales are today deliberately choosing business and public careers, and if therein they find independence, money, glory or fame sweeter than old-fashioned home joys, why the world will have to abide by the consequences, and just what the outcome will be remains to be seen. Who shall prophesy?

It may be reassuring to remind you that Plato, who you remember wrote nearly four hundred years before the Saviour's birth, tells us that "all the pursuits of men are the pursuits of women also," and in all of them, he adds, "woman is only a weaker man."

Well, happily all women are not breadwinners either from choice or necessity. Granted that woman may today enter upon any business career that in her opinion seems well and good, I would call your attention to just one field, by her heretofore quite overlooked or ignored. It is a field full of promise and profit for women with any aptitude in this direction, and it is an avenue that will never be crowded because it is not the majority who can succeed in this line, and this field is life insurance. The social and financial status of the business makes it a suitable, dignified calling for womankind. Comparatively few women have as yet entered its ranks as solicitors, agents or managers, but those who have attempted it are making money, and no mean fame in the business world.

To fully explain this work, let me first speak somewhat of life assurance. You are perhaps aware that it is today the greatest financial, and the most beneficent institution in this country. Its sure benefits are scattered broadcast all over this and other lands. It has clothed, warmed, fed and built homes for countless widows and made education possible for their fatherless children. Indeed, its merits in the business world are perhaps too well known to need any recital of them; perhaps, too, the least practical woman here must be aware that in these times of financial depression, collapsed interests, and broken banks, no one questions the security of what is termed "Old-line" Life Insurance Companies. I repeat that they are the most secure and the biggest moneyed interests in the world today, and as you doubtless know, thousands of men are covered by their protection, and there are many more thousands who need and ought to have policies in these stanch companies. And this brings me to point out to you the fact that as our country grows in age and wealth, we have among us not only scores of wealthy men, but we have also great numbers of wealthy women. To most of these their riches have come as a new thing, and American women until of late so little experienced in business and money matters, find their riches oftener than otherwise, a not unmixed blessing. Shameful as the record is, many wealthy women have [Page 672]  been plundered by their too grasping brothers; however, today, women are fast learning how to invest and how to care for their own funds.

To this class, not as active workers but as participators in this "New Field for Women," I would address a few words.

Like other things life insurance, of late years, has been progressive, and hand in hand with its sure protection there is now added the investment feature also. Especially is this the case in what is known as the endowment policy; i.e., one insures for a certain sum payable to one's self at the end of a stated period, say ten, fifteen or twenty years hence, and the certainty of receiving again in life (or as an estate in case of death) this sum, together with good dividends, commends itself beyond any savings bank in the country. No other investment is so sure; consequently our richest and keenest business men we find carrying the largest insurance upon their lives.

No wise, prudent man goes without fire insurance protection, and yet every house does not burn, but every life ceases some day, and very few persons indeed in this world of financial vicissitudes can afford to ignore life insurance. I say it deliberately, there is not of insurable age one wealthy woman in this land who ought to be without good life insurance protection in proportion to her financial status. Other investments promising large returns are so often disappointing. Such unforeseen reverses constantly occurring, all combine to make life assurance one of the necessities of our times. An easy and simple thing it is to do; a wise precaution to take, and, except for those in very straitened circumstances, within the reach of all persons.

Now to carry insurance and its blessings to just this one class of wealthy and tax-paying women would indeed afford abundant, I may say inexhaustible work, for very many women as life insurance agents or solicitors. Aside from good remuneration for their labor, there would, in every instance, be the consciousness of having inestimably benefited the assured.

If you please, let us take just one other class–school-teachers. A mighty army they are. There is scarcely any work that makes such great demands upon a woman's vitality, especially her nervous forces; consequently her working years in this field are comparatively few. Now, if during these wage-earning years she will put for a few years a certain sum called the premium into an endowment policy, it will insure her an old age replete with creature comforts, and full of self-respect and dignity because robbed of financial terrors.

Small earnings put into savings banks are so hopeless It takes years in this way to accomplish savings for old age or calamity, moreover such savings are altogether too accessible, and oftener than otherwise are drawn out for various purposes; but one premium paid into a stanch insurance company means, should one die the next minute, an estate of so many hundred or thousand dollars, which will protect the living or those dependent upon us. This is financial protection, the cheapest and the best that the financial world affords, and as said before, in the case of an endowment policy and the insured living to the end of the endowment period or term there is the certainty of funds for one's self.

Again, the time was when none of our best companies insured women's lives. Today several are writing such risks, but some of them charge an extra premium upon female risks. However, two or three of our oldest and best companies are not bound by this absurd rule; instead, they insure women upon any and all plans just the same as they do men, and without extra premium. Certainly such a company commends itself to those seeking insurance.

In this field work is abundant. Whoever enters here can feel that she is doing dignified, womanly, worthy work. Today women are standing by each other, trusting and believing, not only in the honesty, but in the ability of their sisters as never before; consequently, womanly women are in some cases finding it more agreeable to do business with women than with men, though the latter are by no means bears or boors when properly approached in the business world by women.

If our American men are as good and gracious as I personally rate them, they [Page 673]  will by no means have heavily burdened consciences. Business avenues are so crowded, and the competition for bread is so sharp that we must forgive man if at first he was none too gracious toward woman, who demanded her share of both his bread and honors; but let a woman once demonstrate her ability to win bread, to do good and honest work, and she has no further feuds with man, but ever after commands his respect and esteem, and beyond that she must not presume.

As said before, one must be possessed of certain qualifications and an inborn aptitude to do successful work in life insurance ranks; but any woman with talent or inclination in this direction has but to enter an insurance office, which is by far the best way to learn the business, and any of our companies will gladly instruct and aid to the fullest extent, giving her a fair chance to test her abilities in this line. If turning your attention to this subject induces even one wealthy or salary earning woman to place yearly a share of her money where she will some day be sure to find it, especially if it suggests to any dependent sister a way whereby to support herself or her dear ones, I will feel well repaid for this little effort in your behalf.

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Mrs. Julia Edwards Sherman was born at Ypsilanti, Mich., in 1845. Her parents were David and Maria Fairchild Edwards, of New England. She is an only child. She was educated at Ypsilanti. Mich., and has traveled considerably in the United States and resided in New York City many years. In 1866 she married Mr. George Sherman, of New York, prominent in the insurance world. He died in 1877, leaving one child, a promising son now eighteen years of age. In 1887 financial vicissitudes caused Mrs. Sherman to enter the business world. She chose Fire and Life Insurance, in which vocation she is favorably known. In social and literary circles she occupies an enviable position. In religious faith she is an Episcopalian. Her postoffice address is Ypsilanti, Mich.


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