A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Women of the South." by Mrs. S. C. Trueheart
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. 804-809.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Woman's position in the community marks the stages of progress. Her name is written on the mighty influences of the ages, and most conspicuously upon the brow of modern civilization. Examine the records of the past, and a great difference will be noted where her touch is felt, and where it is wanting. It is felt in the intellectual, but more deeply in the spiritual realm. The domain of the spiritual seems to belong to her in a special sense, and the measure of spirituality in thought and life is the measure of the best–the highest. Without this softening and refining power, Greek literature is cold, lifeless. Beautiful it is certainly, and wonderful, but it is the beauty of polished marble, with no tints of rich life. A country whose literature breathes a spiritual atmosphere imparts moral tone, and dissipates mental darkness. In America, since woman has found her voice, and ventured to use her pen freely from platform and press, have gone out influences elevating as well as refining. Since she began to study herself, to more fully realize her own powers of mind and spirit, she has introduced into our literature an element that is working out striking results. She takes a keen delight in discussing herself–in impressing her individuality upon every subject within the range of human thought. From this platform, during the passing month the ablest thinkers and speakers have discussed woman–her place in history, in society, in church and state–woman's work, woman's destiny, woman's past, present and future, in all the relations of life as citizen, reformer, philanthropist, daughter, sister, wife and mother–showing satisfactorily that in the tremendous realities and activities of the day, she is an indispensable. I wish to speak of her as I know her in the Southland–a sister beloved, useful, honorable. Mrs. Helen Watterson protests against woman's continual excitement over women, as if the agitation of the question would postpone the full recognition of her worth. The agitation of a question has the opposite effect, usually rather tending to bring its true worth to the surface. These countrywomen of mine are not dissatisfied with the recognition already accorded, and are convinced that their position among men is as they decide to have it. Truth and worth speak for themselves, and in the end prevail in the face of controversy and opposition. A luminous body shines; one does not have to appeal to parliaments, or indeed to the general public for permission to shine. When the light is there it will show itself. The women of whom I wish to speak dwell [Page 805]  in a goodly land, pleasant to the eye, a land of fine resources, both agricultural and mineral; where may be found fertile cotton fields, vast rice tracts, large sugar plantations, bright skies and balmy breezes. The whole land is plowed by mighty rivers, is ribbed by long mountain chains and washed by the sea. Such natural advantages have been attended by the usual results, have fostered and deepened a love of country strong and abiding, and rendered the people averse to emigration. Without remarking upon the Anglo-Saxon women of the South in colonial days, or of revolutionary days even, as the time will not suffice, I refer to them as I knew them immediately before 1861, before the changes of the last thirty years.

They were not, as some have supposed, useless, half educated, irresponsible creatures, unable to handle intricate problems, or incapable of undertaking enterprises of moment. They did not always rush forward along any lines. They usually walked and talked without hurry, and left the outside, world-wide interests and enterprises to the notice and management of others, feeling they were not called to so exercise themselves; but they were ready to endure, were true to their purposes and patient in the pursuit of those matters custom authorized as their proper work. As priestesses at the home altar, these women felt they must keep the sacred fires ever bright without being fully aware that any other and better plan of serving could be devised. As are the mothers, so are the daughters, we believe with intense faith; what wonder, then, that the daughters were slow to perceive that a wider place for the exercise of their gifts was possible, unless they neglected the imperative duties of the home. The mothers had been taught that without the sanctuary of the inner circle they were not called. These mothers committed grave interests to the daughters when their labors were over and the death angel bore them away. As little as such an inheritance may have been desired, it came–it could not be otherwise; came with all its responsibilities and anxieties. To suppose that daughters with such an inheritance had nothing to do–could be idle or lazy–is a serious mistake. True, among them were to be found individuals whose daily lives were absorbed by trivial concerns or frivolous nothings–who wept over the sad fate of an impossible hero in the pages of a possible novel–who were distracted if a favorite poodle turned from his "chops," or a pet canary could not sing. Weak and foolish people are not the staple product of this section, and of course can not be regarded as representative. Southern women, even women of great wealth, could not be idle had they been inclined. The fact is, their hands were full from the days of their maturity to the end of life. Not always, not often, perhaps, were they engaged in manual labor; but a more trying work was theirs–that of keeping others busy in useful tasks. About them were those who must be taught to work, must not be permitted to suffer, must not know the pain of sordid poverty. The wrinkled matron near by, sitting childlike and improvident in the cabin door, appealed to heart and brain more powerfully than any vexed question of worldwide interest that husband, son, brother and father were better fitted to settle. Under the circumstances they practically endorsed St. Paul's views about women keeping at home, without concerning themselves whether St. Paul's remarks were intended for them or the noisy, meddling busybodies who troubled the infant church in St. Paul's day. The duties of Southern women in those days being so circumscribed, tended somewhat to narrowness, I confess; but the fidelity with which their duties were discharged elevated and ennobled. No women were more loyal, warm-hearted, religious. The faith of the mothers passed on with the inheritance without a touch of agnosticism. Buddha did not distract their thoughts or puzzle their brains. It did not occur to them that the faith of heathen India could, or would, supersede the Christian faith; nor did they wish to see any resemblance thereto, even with the "Light of Asia" to tone up the paganism. They did not reach out into the spirit world to get important, vital information by means of "raps" or "table turnings" from spirits that professed to know more than the Word of God, given by the God of man through human instrumentality. The "isms" that were heralded in some quarters, and had a following, and passed away or were superseded by some other excitement, did not move them from [Page 806]  the even tenor of their ways. They were not superstitious, though they had listened to fairy tales; had heard from the cabins of ghosts and goblins. I never heard of their hanging up a horse-shoe over the door or over the bed for good luck, nor did they cross themselves if a rabbit flitted across the way before them. No; the old faith in which Abraham walked, for which their forefathers fought, in which their mothers died, was theirs to enjoy and teach to others. Church work, attendance upon its ordinances, reverence for those who were authorized to minister at its altars, had place in their creed. The distance to a place of worship was not an insurmountable obstacle, nor rough roads too great a difficulty in the way of attendance. A family of fourteen went regularly to church every Sabbath day, unless rain or storm prevented, for forty years, fully ten miles. This was not an isolated case. Many daughters thus trained grew to womanhood with profound respect for the institutions of the Christian religion. The means of education were prized. School was a marked feature in household plans, and the teacher, or private tutor, a person of importance. Education for the masses was not provided as it is now; but many Southern women were finely educated–were educated out of the barbarizing tendency to flatten their "i's," broaden their "a's" or drop out their "r's." In the line of literary productions I can not note many women very distinguished in the times of which I speak. "Beulah" and "Alone" were extensively read, but I can not say they gave rise to activity of very high literary worth. Purely sensational books give birth to a numerous progeny of weak stories, but do not nourish the reasoning, thinking soul, or much excite the imagination while feeding the fancy. Books and periodicals filled the libraries, but these were not often products of the soil. On these they depended for mental food, from these they learned when the world was out of joint, but "cursed spite, they did not feel that they were born to set it right." Their training was not for the big, round world, but for the place they called home; where rich, true womanhood could be found. They had no doubt about their sphere, and talked little and wrote less on the subject. Education for the marts of trade or lines of commerce was not thought indispensable; though many, when compelled, managed business affairs. A lady of Mississippi, whom I knew, was left with a large family and an encumbered estate (a thirty-thousand-dollar debt), cleared off the debt, educated her daughters. gave her sons access to the learned professions, kept herself well posted in current literature, and found time to enjoy the classics. Many Southern women had to cook, too, and could do it well; to patch and darn, and often to provide food and raiment for the household, because the husband and father frequented drink-shops or wasted his substance in riotous living.

In such trying cases no thought of seeking a competency behind the counter or in a work-shop entered a woman's brain as possible. The cotton-field or tobacco-patch was preferred. They were inclined to walk in the old paths, to follow old customs, and carefully scrutinized an innovation, or regarded it with suspicion. They were not ambitious, were strong in their likes and dislikes, and in their heart of hearts believed their own skies were bluest, their own cornfields greenest, their tobacco finest, and no cotton-fields like theirs on the face of the earth. Somewhat resentful, they were not bitter in their animosities, nor pugilistic, nor cruel, though slow to take to their hearts again those who had been estranged. Broad in their hospitality, they did not seal a friendship until gathered about the table, where the bounties of the home were dispensed. They were not slow in their mental processes, were self-sacrificing when love prompted, were devoted to old friends, old manners and customs, gloried in their birthright–desired no better country. The mighty civil convulsion of 1861 brought about new conditions in the social as well as industrial life of the South. Women who had been satisfied and happy under the old regime, were stirred to the depths of their natures. They were not eager for change, but soon open to conviction; they showed a readiness to advance along the lines of the new development. Awake now to affairs that affect the good of the race, they realized that a better way to establish the home, as well as preserve it, is to rid the country of the great evils, [Page 807]  dark and threatening, that confront it. Conservative in a high degree, they move cautiously, though not timidly, to effect their purpose. Feeling in a higher degree individual responsibility, more fully realizing that their co-operation is needed, they respond most heartily and cheerfully. The time has passed to be satisfied to cultivate the roses in their own gardens; they long to make all solitary places glad, all deserts rejoice. They are eager to take part in all enterprises that have for their object the social and economic interests, not only of this, but of all lands. With a keen desire for the necessary equipment, they have prepared and are preparing themselves for whatever will place them abreast of the times. They are not in any sense forsaking the interests of the family life, the Christian home, the foundation stone in the cause of freedom and justice. No, no; more than formerly they love it, and set its base broad and strong in faith and hope. In Sunday-school work they are doing much. While lawlessness of thought and lawlessness of life seem to invest the great social and political questions of the day, they plant themselves upon the Word of God, where all questions of humanity and civilization may be settled and give time and energy to guiding the young along the paths of truth. Sabbath after Sabbath they gather the young about them and time and voice are consecrated to instruction in the pure, the simple word of revelation. In the county, state and national conventions they take part with success. They are not occupied with the mistakes of Moses, nor possible errors of dates and numbers in Genesis, nor of the probabilities as to two Isaiahs or three Daniels, but in the Word which is supremely and authoritatively God's will concerning the race of man. The Christian Association, Christian Endeavor, Epworth League–all have now their personal, powerful help. The voice so long attuned solely for the quiet fireside sends its sweet melody out to the great congregations, stirring the hearts and wills of mighty gatherings. In the Woman's Christian Temperance Union they are doing telling service. Nowhere on the continent has prohibition succeeded as in the South, and the work is largely, if not solely, due to the efforts of the women. If they persevere, continue true to their trust, in the near future, I doubt not, that the destroyer, intemperance, will be thrust out from our borders. The contest is not over, and the women are not planning to retire, because success has crowned their efforts. The foe is cunning as well as malignant, and hydra-headed, springs into vigorous life whenever vigilance is remitted or watchfulness abates. The enemy is most deadly among those not self-sustaining since their enfranchisement, the ignorant and improvident. Among these a great work is being done without respect of age, condition, or color. These are taught, strengthened, guided and removed from temptation by banishing the death-dealing saloons from their midst. There is much patient, persistent work along this line–much self-denial and prayer as well as work. I know one who rides five miles through all kinds of disagreeable weather to teach a school of negro children the necessity of total abstinence. She is a woman of culture and wealth, and the six years she has weekly given to this work is telling upon the settlement, as no whisky shops cast their dark shadows in the village where her work is about done.

As regards the privilege of the ballot, the women of the South have not been very pronounced. They are not sure they need it, do not know that they want it. Their indecision does not grow out of the fact that they fear the stones or broken teeth that Mr. Richard Harding Davis declares English women sometimes meet in the exercise of the ballot. They are not sure such disorder would obtain were they invested with the prerogatives their brethren have accorded to themselves. Nor are our women afraid of passing through a crowd to deposit the ballot, nor do they think leaving home for the time it would take would cause hurtful neglect of other duties, nor do I think they regard the study of politics damaging to their morals, nor is it because they fear differences of opinion may mar the family harmony. since difference of opinion on other subjects has no such effect, nor do they hesitate because they are not sure which political party should have their support. Not this, certainly–to a man, every woman, white or black, would vote for the prohibition candidates. No; [Page 808]  none of these considerations weigh with them; but there is a shrinking from the responsibility of the ballot, perhaps because they are not fully satisfied that they would gain all involved therein. Southern women, as others, feel there is no limit to the possibilities of mind for highest culture, if proper conditions and suitable opportunities are guaranteed. They are more and more impressing the age as teachers, not only as teachers in the ordinary class work, but as organizers and superintendents of a high grade. As yet not many have entered the learned professions, possibly because their brothers are crowding in, leaving fields and vineyards for desks and offices. If this continues they may have to run the plantations to provide food and raiment. In speculations, booms, large money ventures, they do not plunge, not because of cowardice solely. They do not covet the bravery that risks their own property, the property of others. They do not indulge in gambling enough to blunt their moral sensibilities; a necessary training, I think, for a conscience that will spend other people's money with no reasonable expectation of remuneration.

Perhaps in no direction have Southern women shown themselves more capable, more noble, than in the work of missions–the work of evangelizing the world. Recognizing the fact that American civilization and Christian civilization should take the world, they have projected and are carrying on the grandest enterprise of modern times. Mission stations have been planted in many parts of the world where the Gospel was not. As teachers they have gone out to occupy these stations, to deliver the Divine message with cheerful devotion. Those who have planned and now sustain the work, collect and disburse large sums of money with a cautious, discerning business integrity truly admirable. Their labors are unremunerative, as far as salaries or money go, and have been incessant and abundant. Those in the foreign field have shown as intelligent, devoted service as those at home, and with far more self-denial and suffering. From Georgia, in 1884, there went to China a woman who was born for great achievements, which marked her home life. Called to the foreign work, she took with her those rare qualities of mind and heart that distinguished her in her native state, and soon proved her power to do and dare much for the needs of China. Her first work, after mastering the intricate Chinese language, was to Romanize it, thus facilitating its acquisition. She next planned a home and school building; the money, $25,000, she secured by selling ten-dollar shares, which did not pay dividends in money–no dividends at all except the satisfaction that accompanies a soul-saving investment. From Kentucky went out a woman who founded and carried to successful issue a boarding-school in Piricicao, Brazil, and another from the same blue-grass section opened a school upon the Mexican border, which sent out branches into Mexico, and now manages successfully five schools in five separate mission stations, with an executive skill truly remarkable. The leaders of the work at home–the women who have made the basic work broad and strong which sustains the foreign, have shown keen, discriminating foresight, a foresight that has saved the missions during this phenomenal, financial restriction. A crowning result of their perseverance, their persistency in this enterprise stands on a high bluff overlooking the turbid Missouri in the suburbs of Kansas City.

After some years of missionary labor, realizing that trained workers were as necessary to success here as in secular pursuits, a training school was determined upon. There was no money–no, not a cent at command when the women determined upon the measure; but there was much prayer and strong hope A consecrated woman of unusual business tact and fine culture at this juncture consented to work up the financial resources, and passed through the South soliciting aid. Born and reared amid the wealth and refinement of Kentucky she laid aside the attractions of a beautiful home and did the work, a distasteful work, with untiring zeal, and in less than four years from its inception the cap-stone of the Scarritt Bible and Training School was placed upon it, amid the silent, though heartfelt, rejoicings of more than fifty thousand Southern women. A massive, well proportioned, elegant structure, it stands a handsome monument of the business tact, economy, self-denial and devotion of women, [Page 809]  who persevered in the face of opposition and difficulty. That which her intelligence and love plan, her hands rear, if possible. In scientific pursuits the women of the South have not made striking progress. The need of university training, growing out of the selfishness of the brothers or the conservatism of the daughters, has, to the present, prevented. This need will be met. When our women of means devise sufficient sums to meet the pecuniary demands of such institutions, or will endow chairs in those universities that are beginning to unlock their doors to women, this hindrance will be removed. Statistics are provokingly meager in endowments of schools for women in the Southland–indeed for women in all lands. Few magnificent gifts of this kind to educate women, even by women themselves, have been made, though they will leave large sums oftentimes to open or aid male schools. Why, I know not. Possibly from want of faith that their sisters would value such opportunities. May the day speedily come when opportunities of the highest culture will multiply in the Southland. While our women have left the bugs and hats, rocks, rockets and comets, and much more of scientific research to their brothers, and have never startled the world along mathematical highways, they are turning their attention to such matters, and in the near future may rival Caroline Herschel or Mrs. Somerville. In imaginative literature there is much promise of books that will live; in narration, exposition and description there is a creditable showing. Macaulay said: "Poetry of the highest order may not be looked for in nations whose culture has attained perfection." So we look for poets–look confidently, too–since of late years from under our own magnolia came one of the sweetest singers of the century, Sidney Lanier. In journalism the women of the South are being heard and felt, and, indeed, they are making ready to enter any lines of usefulness their preferences, necessities or tastes dictate. Time will not permit illustrations, or I would name many women of the South who are recognized as leaders–honored for their attainments, admired for their success. Let me name one, the chairman of this Woman's Congress–born in Kentucky, reared there, educated there, claimed by Arkansas as its ideal of beautiful, energetic womanhood–who well represents the refinement, the intelligence and executive skill of our women. Do I claim too much when I say the women of the South are the peers of the best, the truest, the purest and richest womanhood of the world?

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Mrs. S. C. Trueheart is a native of Middleway, Jefferson County, W. Va., which constitutes part of the famed Shenandoah Valley. Her parents were natives of Virginia. Her father was a tradesman, her mother the only daughter of Dr. James Macoughtry, a celebrated physician. She was educated in Virginia and Maryland. She was graduated from the Baltimore Female College, Baltimore, receiving the degree of A. B., and from the same college, in 1870, received that of A. M. She married Prof. Wm. E. Trueheart, of Amelia County, Va., who was elected principal of Stanford Female College, in Kentucky, in 1872. He died in 1873; his wife succeeded him as principal of the same school, which position she occupied for twelve years. As a teacher she has also spent four years in Staunton, Va., one year in the Baltimore Female College, and since 1885 has been teaching in the Female College, Millersburg, KY. She is a devoted Christian, is now secretary of Home Affairs, Woman's Board of Missions, Methodist Episcopal Church South, of which church she is a member. Her postoffice address is Millersburg, Bourbon County, Ky.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom