A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Children of the Other Half." by Miss Lucy Wheelock (1857-1946).
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. 323-325.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 323] 




   "Oh, child! oh new-born denizen
Of life's great city! On thy head
The glory of the morn is shed
   Like a celestial benison–
Here at the portal thou dost stand,
And with thy little hand
   Thou openest the mysterious gate,
Into the future's undiscovered land!"

Every child born, in palace or hovel, stands at this same mysterious portal. For every one the future waits. There is no manger so lowly, no cradle so humble that around it the glories of the waiting world do not shine. As to the holy Child of old, so to every child today, the world comes with its gifts. The gentle Mary is there representing the family life. The humble shepherds come first, foreshadowing the lot of man as destined to live among the common people, to live only by using his own powers, and by conforming to the laws of life, that there is no receiving without giving. And yet, the glory of Heaven had shone upon these same shepherds, showing that the radiance of the Divine may illuminate even the most humble life, and the celestial music may accompany the every-day talk. Kingly power is represented in the group around this early cradle. The golden treasures of the world's wisdom are laid at the feet of the child standing at life's portal. Every poet, from the time of blind Homer, has sung his songs for him. Every work written in any tongue may be his.

The canvas of a Murillo or a Reynolds he may possess in the true sense of possession. "The world belongs to those who take it." The incense of the lives of the saints, of the good and holy men of all ages is wafted to him as a sacred gift. The faith of a Luther, of a Savonarola, or of a Joan of Arc may be his inheritance. A long procession of heroes and heroines, the great and mighty of the earth, may march across the stage of his life, each bringing the inspiration of his or her deed as a magic gift to allure to noble living. Such is the possible heritage of every child born. But alas! how often by lack of right environment, and by a false system of training, the heir fails to take possession of what is truly his. To defraud a man of his estate is a grievous sin. But to defraud a human being of his Divine possession of himself and of his powers, of his joyous inheritance in this world of blessing, is an evil with which human law may not interfere, and of which too seldom we, any of us, take cognizance. We have easily comforted ourselves by assigning too much importance to heredity and too little to environment. To take a child of the slums and put him for half a day [Page 324]  into an atmosphere of peace and good-will and joy, such as the kindergarten offers, is to make the dinginess and misery of the tenement house impossible for that child when growth shall have come. The child of the slums becomes vicious and wicked because effected by the false maxims of his environment. "The world owes every man a living," is a motto of the tramp, the thief, the pickpocket. The child brought up with no other influence must inevitably look upon the world, not as his natural God-given inheritance to use and enjoy, but as an estate to which others have defrauded him of his natural rights. He must gain by craft and crime that which others have appropriated.

Those whom we call great are so because they most fully accept the truth that their lives belong not to themselves, but to the race. The child standing at the portal of the future, wherever his feet are placed, finds himself confronted by the institutional life of man, offering varied relationships.

To lead a human being to master himself and his relationships is to educate him. The kindergarten takes hold of the family relationship and idealizes it for the child. One of Froebel's finger-plays names the fingers for the different members of the family. The children sing:

"This is the mother, kind and dear;
This is the father, with hearty cheer;
This is the brother, strong and tall;
This is the sister who plays with her doll;
And this is the baby, the pet of all.
Behold the good family, great and small."

As they sing the different fingers are raised, and when the little one takes its place the idea of a perfect whole is gained. The finger family would be incomplete without the little one. The hand would be imperfect. Each is needed in its place to make the whole. The moral is obvious. Each member of the human family is needed in its right place to make a beautiful home. The little one, pet of all, must stand in its turn and help as the little finger does, when its work is needed. There are many other family songs which impress the same lesson. The mothers everywhere testify to the influence which is felt in the home. "My Johnny is a different boy since he went to the kindergarten," says the mother. "He talks so pretty, now, and he runs so quick to get the coal."

The reflex influence of the plays of the kindergarten on the home is not the least important of its effects. One mother was convicted of her own unworthiness, when she heard her Jennie singing, "This is the mother, kind and dear." "I haven't been a good mother," she confessed with bitter tears; "but I'd like her to sing it truly of me." This confession was made to the kindergartner, for the heaviest doors open to, and the kindest hearts are reached by the kindergartner, who goes into the poorest home as the friend of the children. That is her only passport to favor and it serves. The charity visit is rarely productive of good, but the visit of a friend is always welcome.

The home atmosphere is often changed, too, by the pretty colored things which are brought into it. Jennie carries home the red and white mat she has woven. The mother is delighted to see what "her Jennie" can make. She likes to show it to the neighbors when they drop in. But there is not a place worthy of this bright, clean mat. Perhaps the wall is washed to make a clean background for it, or the mantel is dusted. "My mother dusted the mirror," one child reported, "and she put my card in the frame." When the wall has been washed and the mirror dusted, the window must be cleaned, so that the light may come in better, and the stronger light shows the doubtful spots on the floor. So the floor is washed, and, at length, the dingy room becomes clean. The "divine discernment" is bred within children, who are taken from dinginess and strife and surrounded for a portion of every day with an atmosphere of peace and [Page 325]  good will. The slums will not hold them, when the power comes to forsake the life of the tenement. The kindergarten to many children seems like a real heaven with blooming flowers and sunshine and singing birds. The warmth and light and kindliness of the place first attracts, and then the love for it all comes. "The kindergarten is the largest step forward yet taken in the race with poverty;" though the kindergarten plays, the fancy is so filled with shapes of joy that the poorest and hungriest boy gains the power to create his own environment. In fancy he roams the daisy fields, or the green forests. Or, perhaps, the heat of the summer and the squalor of his surroundings are lost, as he personates the fish diving and darting along the clear, rippling stream. The songs and talks and plays have made "his mind a mansion for all lovely forms," and have given him a new environment. A new earth has been created around him, and he looks toward a new heaven. This heaven he finds within himself, as he is guided constantly to happy companionship, not only with the forms and voices of Nature which are pictured and presented to him, but with his fellows. He learns that there is a larger family than that dwelling within the attic room, of which he is a member. In the kindergarten he is a part of an embryo community, where all the duties and rights of citizenship are taught by daily intercourse. The law of this community is the Golden Rule, and all actions are measured by its golden standard.

But every community must have its industrial life, and this child society is no exception. By making work beautiful it becomes interesting and a love of work grows up within this circle of children, where the hum of industry is as pleasant as the hum of the traditional bee. Idleness, which is the cause of crimes and woes manifold, finds an arch enemy in the kindergarten, where diligence in business is the ruling principle. The value of this training to work and to love work cannot be ignored by those who see the need of a better industrial development in our country.

The kindergarten, too, constantly contradicts the old dictum of Plato, that the useful arts are degrading. The work of the blacksmith, the cooper, the farmer, the miller, the clothier are represented in the games of the children. It is a joy to be a blacksmith and to hammer well, because we can then set a shoe for a horse. Without the horse the farmer could not carry his grain to the miller, and the flour could not be ground and the children could not be fed. So the beauty and the honor of the work are made to depend on what it gives to others, and in his representative play the four-year-old may gain the great truth as a life possession, which we name the interdependence of mankind on the solidarity of the race.

"Everybody has to have everybody," exclaimed the child on whom this great thought had dawned through his play. Can any minister or teacher phrase it better? Can there be any better thought for the child, standing on the portal of the future, to carry with him into the undiscovered land? If everybody needs everybody, somebody needs him. If he accepts this universal relationship, he has already become an heir to his true kingdom He has come into possession of his own.

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Miss Lucy Wheelock is a native of Vermont. She was born February 1, 1859. Her parents were Edwin Wheelock and Laura Pierce. She was educated by her mother at home and in Chauncy Hall School, Boston, Mass. She has traveled through her own country as far west as the Mississippi River and one summer in Europe. She is an enthusiastic and successful worker in the kindergarten. Her principal literary works are educational articles, children's stories, and lessons and translations of German tales. Miss Wheelock is a Christian, and a member of the Congregational Church. Her postoffice address is Chauncy Hall School, Boston. Mass.


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