A Celebration of Women Writers

"Woman, the New Factor in Economics." by Rev. Augusta Cooper Bristol.
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. pp. 80-86.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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When a speaker or writer is assigned a theme for elucidation, it is important at the outset to have a clear understanding of the terms of that theme. "He shall be as a god to me who can rightly divide and define," said Plato, and as the world gets older it subscribes more and more to Plato.

A definition of the terms of my subject, as presented in dictionary and encyclopedia, arrays it as a paradox; establishes woman as the oldest, as well as the newest, factor in economics; the earliest and the latest, according to the area to which the term economics is applied. It is important to note all that this fact involves. We find that economics in its primary application signified the science of household affairs; the adjustment of domestic expenditures to the income. We may rationally conclude that in early phases of society the responsibility of the then narrow domain of economics fell chiefly upon women, since we find that fact illustrated at the present day among races that have not yet risen out of primitive phases of society. A recent writer upon the customs of Central Africa states that the work in an African village is performed chiefly by the women; that they sow the seed, hoe the fields and reap the harvest. Upon them also falls the labor of house-building, brewing beer, grinding corn and looking after nearly all the material interests of the community.

It is from this primitive social aspect that we find woman to be the principal factor in economics, the initiator at least of the whole system which follows, whether its area be the family, the community, or the nation. For, although political economy, as defined, "is a science of the laws which Providence has established for the regulation of supply and demand in a community," yet the same authority affirms "that the disposition to regulate the expenditures of a family to its income is one of the phenomena which make up those laws of nature constituting political economy." From this point of view woman is the original factor in all systems of economics; the demure goddess at the fountain head, directing the quantity and the quality of the waters which flow therefrom.

As an organic body obtains vital force by virtue of the cells which compose it and as the family is the cell of the social organism, so domestic economy is the original unfolding principle of all larger economics. I am desirous that this fact should become established in the consciousness of woman; here, now, and ever more, that she may have a just estimate of her place and power in the evolutionary scheme of life when it reached the point of the social beginnings of the race; that she may per- [Page 81]  ceive that it is neither from the present nor the future that she receives or will receive her credentials as an economic factor, but from the primal condition of society itself, being the original necessity of that vast scheme of economics which introduces and links the nations to each other, and of which man alone has hitherto been the recognized exponent and director. Although man has cast a blind eye upon this truth, yet, if woman perceives it clearly, she can well afford to smile serenely on his self-gratulation as umpire of economics. For the woman soul, in the discovery and realization of its high assignment in the scheme of things, will find that power of equanimity, which sooner or later converts all obstacles into auxiliaries, all hindrances into means of advance. This internal ascension of the spirit into an imperturbable equanimity is our great need as women, if we would make all external advantage more surely and successfully our own. Abolish within all sense of bondage, and advancing on the wings of freedom, believe and take the whole arena of affairs as our native domain. Emancipate the thoughts from the ever-cramping sense of personal wrong and international disadvantage, and a miracle follows. The spirit at once assumes its proper majesty and gathers up the reins of directing power. A few individual examples among women illustrate my statement, and we call them the world's representative women. Their persevering and telling efforts for woman's emancipation is not from the standpoint of woman as woman, but from the standpoint of the social unity and solidarity of the race, the proper balance of the social organism. Woman has been and will forever be a hero worshiper; but the hero enlarges. It is neither man nor woman, but humanity. She labors for justice for woman as a means to an end, and that end, the adjustment of civilization to the perfecting organic principle which Spencer styles "a moving equilibrium."

The women invested with largest power to bring about this state of social equity are women who, in their own spiritual forces, have attained this condition of a "moving equilibrium." There is perhaps no vantage-ground that will so surely bring the rank and file of women into this condition of spiritual balance and power as a realization of the magnitude of woman's relation to the entire scheme of economics.

The lad who believed himself to be the child of a peasant, expressed in his personality and bearing only the common manners and nature of the peasant life, but hearing one day from a stranger that he was the child of a king, he was transformed by his consciousness of the fact from the peasant weakling to the dignity and power of his true relation.

Woman, then, being the oldest factor in economics, under what aspect shall we now regard her as the new factor? Looking at her economic relationships today, and comparing them with those of the past, the contrast is as marked as that of day with night. It is the recognition of this contrast that fixes her as the new factor in economics. The light of morning is new to one who wakens, but the same light has been on its way through the darkness, and it is old with travel. What engineering ever laid out the line where darkness terminated and dawn began? So with woman's industrial advance. She attains new areas, but the attaining is old with unflinching continuity and struggle. When the face of Ramona appeared to Father Salvierderra through the tangled thicket of old mustard, the vision was new. But long before its appearance there had been perceptible tumult in the fragrant thicket, a bending and weaving and tossing of branches, some persistent agile force pressing its way through the interlaced foliage that seemed to defy advance. The vision was new, but Ramona had been coming long before, and as she disentangled the network around her, sung her canticle to the sun.

The new economic area to which woman has attained during the latter half of the nineteenth century is that of the creation of wealth. Her economic responsibilities are no longer limited to the application and distribution of supplies. She is a wealth producer in the broadest meaning of the term; not indirectly, but directly, and this constitutes her a new element in industrial development. What is it to be a creator of wealth? What is wealth? No one has given us a better definition than Henry [Page 82]  George. "Wealth," he says, "consists of natural products modified by human exertion so as to gratify human desires. It is labor impressed upon matter in such a way as to store it up. When a country increases in wealth, it increases in certain tangible things, such as agricultural and mineral products, manufactured goods of all kinds, houses, cattle, ships, wagons, furniture, etc." Into this spacious wealth-producing domain, the autonomy of which determines a nation's place among nations, woman has found entrance as an active agent among its complex forces.

Still further is she completing Henry George's definition of wealth when he adds: "Nor should it be forgotten that the artist, the teacher, the poet, the priest, the philosopher, though not engaged in the production of wealth, are not only engaged in the production of utilities and satisfactions to which the production of wealth is but a means, but by acquiring and diffusing knowledge, stimulating the mental powers and elevating the moral sense, are largely increasing the ability to produce wealth. 'For man does not live by bread alone.'" Into this higher atmosphere of wealth production, where professions are ranked and ideas generate, woman has seemingly compelled her own ascent; for whenever and wherever we lift our eyes to these intellectual ramparts she passes before our vision, she is there also. I state this advisedly, for I am informed from a variety of sources that the number of occupations and professions now open to woman are from four to five hundred, and one authority informs me that all callings of whatever nature are now open to woman if she have the courage to enter them. For myself, I am somewhat apprehensive of the full significance of the word "courage" in that statement. If a general should say to his soldiers, "My boys, the enemy's entrenchments are ours if you have the courage to take them," he would not mean that the entrenchments were thrown open for possession. So far as woman has hitherto made headway into the promised land, she has cast up this highway of courage every inch of the route. So I dare not claim new comfort from this authority, certainly not sufficient to justify us in casting aside our armor or stacking our arms. The hopefulness of the outlook lies in the fact that the area yet to conquer narrows; the line of struggle shortens; the entrenchments of opponents weaken and diminish, and this is due not simply to our persistent courage as women, not to our tireless importunities, but to very many causes inherent in the nature of modern civilization of which our courage and importunity are effects, which in turn become causes.

Society being an organism, it experiences all the expansions and transformations of any nucleated cell or egg. There is a time in the history of an egg when the limitations of the shell are a protection to the homogeneous, inchoate substance within. But differentiations being once set up in this life substance, functions being specialized and the whole individualized, that which was protection becomes imprisonment. The organism wrenches and struggles, the walls yield, and the organism steps forth into the light and responsibility of freedom. If the beak of the hatched eagle could speak for itself, it would surely claim that the weakening of its prison walls was due to its own persistent knocking and battering, and the wing and the talon would put in a similar claim of merit for themselves. But it was the increasing perplexity of the whole organism, the one differentiating life within that compelled the beak to knock, the talon to scratch, and the wing to push and struggle.

There is a seed in Southern California, I think it is a variety of clover, that if it had consciousness would surely believe that it planted itself. It lies upon the surface of the packed soil during the dry season, but when the rains of winter come it takes a notion to bore a little depression in the softened earth and put forth roots. "Behold my efficiency," it might well say. "But mine made yours available," a week's rain might reply; but the incubating genius of life, brooding over mountain and canon and mesa, could say: "I am the awakener and supply of all your forces." A like independence of progressive forces permeates the entire structure of modern society. Simultaneous transformations, seemingly foreign to each other, are transfusing the body politic, the genius of evolution burning at its center having the providence to initiate [Page 83]  all normal expansion in radii, thus preserving the equilibrium of growth. Impartially breathing her quickenings throughout the entire structure, she thereby secures balance with movement, and links order to progress. A very long-headed adviser does this genius of evolution prove herself to be, in that she puts in the heart of each separate reform a feeling that the welfare of society depends almost wholly on its own special success. It is this feeling which secures the most remarkable concentration of effort, and leads each separate reform to battle victoriously with the obstacles of progress. In the vantage-ground of industrial emancipation which woman has already attained, I would in no wise divest her of the feeling of the super-importance of the woman cause; for I believe Spencer affirms that it is feeling and not opinion that moves the world; but I seek rather to establish scientifically and philosophically in woman's understanding the fact that her special movement has the backing of the universal movement; that the Divine mania which has taken possession of her for self-culture, full responsibility and complete freedom holds even cosmic relations. Most truly says Heine: "We do not take possession of our ideas, but are possessed by them. They master us and force us into the arena, where, like gladiators, we must fight for them." Woman will not abate, but give larger possession to the ideas which compel her to do battle for them when she understands that they emanate, not from woman in the interest of woman, but from the one life in the interest of life.

This is the true basis of our faith, the genuine substance of things hoped for. The credentials which insure woman's emancipation from every phase of thralldom are from universal belongings, not dependent upon chance or fortune, social fad or political caprice. "Attractions are proportioned to destinies." The line of attraction or movement is forward and upward, and the future destiny of woman is above, not below, the present outlook. The urgent fire in the woman's soul forever impelling her to larger venture and enterprise, that leads a Mrs. Sheldon into the wilds of Africa, is the pentecostal flame of this same destiny. When we stand on this true mount of vision, there is no room for uncertainty to put in an appearance. Indeed, uncertainty in regard to woman's emancipation is getting passé even with our opponents, and must ere long vanish in thin air.

It is well to remember the inter-relation of the entire output of social reforms, and the fact that the success of each and all of them depends upon this inter-relation. It is not difficult to perceive that the woman cause and temperance reform are allies. It requires closer scrutiny to perceive its relation to tariff, tax and ballet reform, to government ownership of railways, and a financial system less subject to individual and class manipulation. Nevertheless the fact is there, for woman being a recognized factor in the production of a nation's wealth, every reform that effects the production and distribution of that wealth touches the woman cause; for upon woman as a free economic factor hang all the law and the prophets of her complete emancipation. After this manner and direction has been the movement of freedom for any class or people from the beginning. The inter-relation of all economic forces always reveals itself along the lines of justice and injustice. Take for example the unequal wage. It is pre-eminently a matter of equity that woman receive equal compensation with man for like quantity and quality of work. When this is withheld, the standard of wages which working men combine to maintain in their own interest invariably lowers. There is no real security for man's good fortune except through equity to woman. The want of this has been the bête noire of all his woes. Note the social scourges that follow in the train of the unequal wage. How it bears direct relation to the dark problem of poverty! How this darkness widens and merges into the sloughs and slums of immorality! How it broadens the margin of unemployed men, who constitute the industrial reserve which enables capital from time to time to dictate its own terms to labor! How it compels the latter, on the matter of wages, to often array itself against its own kith and kin and do battle for its enemies! How it necessitates, in the name of sympathy and pity, the effort and expense of organized charities to eke out the earnings which are either not sufficient for maintenance, or not sufficient to meet the exigencies of misfortune! [Page 84] 

Surely a knowledge of the one fact, that the average yearly income of the working woman of Boston exceeds her expenses for positive needs only about eight dollars, might well fill the consciousness of any woman who is tolerably bright and apprehensive with a sense of impending doom. Yet this is but one illustration of the evils which follow in a special line of injustice, afflicting the wrong-doer even more than the wronged; and were we to follow out all the iniquities in which woman has been involved, we would surely find a point in all these entanglements where the same disastrous lesson and result is revealed for man. "Every benefactor," says Emerson, "becomes a malefactor by continuation of his activity in places where it is not due." From the hour in which woman was sufficiently awakened, through intellectual quickening, to deliberately and voluntarily board the car of progress, every obstacle that man puts in the way of her advance reveals him as a malefactor, a train-wrecker, and all the constabulary of the universe are after him. A benefactor he might have been before the moment arrived for her decisive journey; but from that moment he becomes a malefactor if he does not leave the track clear, and the law of equilibrium or equity deals out punishment to him proportioned to his crime. Yet what better evidence could there be of a concession and recognition on the part of man, which must ultimate in the fulfillment of our largest hope, than the place so cordially assigned to woman in this Columbian Exposition by the powers that be? It is no less than a world-wide announcement of her coming on, verified in every form of art and industry. For the first time in the history of the race the governmental powers have fashioned an auditorium where a world gives hearing to woman, and through her own powers of creation and invention she speaks the same language as man, varying only in a tone and modulation which beautifully and forever enhances the distinctive attributes of sex.

No niggardly dole is this to us, but the grandest privilege of all history, dating in myriad forms of art, literature and invention the fullness of time for woman's economic debut; and permit me to direct your attention to the wonderful significance of this sentence, "the fullness of time." There is no sentence in all Scripture so plenary with philosophic meaning as this. It solves for us the vexing problem of procrastination and delay which has seemingly attended woman's advancement. If hope deferred has heretofore made the heart sick, this sentence should from henceforth preserve us from all such abnormal lapses; for we must learn and remember that nature or evolution delights in appropriateness, and will have all things in keeping. She will not vary one hair's breadth from this principle, though humanity, wild with desire, frantic with importunity, should go down on its knees to her. As a woman of great taste will seek to have the details of her costume express an equalness of grade and quality, which secures harmony, so Nature, with faultless and exquisite judgment, arranges in like manner her evolutionary series through all the realms of matter and mind, proceeding always from the simple to the complex, from sameness to variety, from the coarse to the fine, from the crude to the finished; and though an eon should be necessary to each grade in the series, yet shall the detail of each grade be held in perfect relation and keeping; for Nature is congruous whatever else she may be. There is due preparation for the advent of her successive creations or becomings, each of which waits on her fullness of time, and the longer the precedence of preparation, the higher the outcome ranks in the scale of her series.

Who can guess how long the vegetable life waited on the trouble of chaos and the perturbations of protoplasm before cosmic propriety permitted the first lichen to drape the earth's nudity? How long did the vegetable kingdom creepingly unfold as the expression of organized life before the animal creation put in an appearance and accepted all that had preceded it as a gratuitous offering to the animal economy? How long before man capped the climax of the vertebrate series in mathematical concurrence with the fullness himself of time and announced himself as monarch of all he surveyed? If he had tolerably good sense at the date of his appearance on this planet, he must have congratulated himself on the minutiæ and perfecting of [Page 85]  detail which delayed his coming. It is ever the last result which utilizes and epitomizes preceding effects. The richer the macrocosm the grander the microcosm. Man found himself invested with aptitudes and characteristics in perfect keeping with his habitat. Convulsive throes of Nature, gigantic powers of vegetation, hugeness and antagonism in the brute creation, heralded and attended Man the militant, Man the conqueror; and these in turn gave place to more intricate expressions of Nature, as Man the subjugator became Man the social being. Wonderful utilities did he wrest from the close clutches of Nature by strength of muscle and mind, and he named the ages after them, as he builded communities, kingdoms and nations along his militant path; and he said, "the stone age served me here and iron there, yet surely some individuality other than my own must sooner or later co-operate with me in the economy of things, or Man will become an incongruity, an anachronism, not able to keep pace with the increasing complexity of society and its moral needs.

All things herald finer citizenship. "My good sword rusts in its scabbard for lack of use, for the press age has transferred the arena of battle to the realm of ideas. The good fellowship also of the steam age, introduced by the genius of commerce, renders it no longer appropriate for the spirit of forceful antagonism to dominate the nations." Man, urged on by the "power that makes for righteousness," advanced into the tangle of civilization, like Father Salvierderra into the wild mustard maize. But Ramona was not there. Not yet the fullness of time. And had he dreamed that far away in the distance she was patiently parting the thicket that she might join him in the advance, he would surely have cried "halt!"

A new age, shod with lightning, has overtaken man's bewilderment. Its incandescent fire reveals the occult forces of nature, the eluding principle of things, and the material reservoirs of power. And, lo! Ramona is here, standing clear in the white light of the electric age, as the new factor in economics. The magnitude of the preparation has been fully proportioned to the ripe event. For woman, the magic of events has transformed obstacle and hindrance into those necessary equipments of character which belong not to partial but complete citizenship. What does this equipment for complete citizenship indicate? It is no superfluous trick of evolution, .mark my words. Desired or dreaded, woman is proceeding straight to the inevitable goal of largest social and political equality. We might as well endeavor to avert the fact that we were born as this fact. We are under equal necessity to resignedly utilize the one as the other of these facts. Industrial emancipation broadens by an inevitable law into social and political equality, and as the combined forces of the stone, iron, press and steam ages were engaged in shaping and molding civilization into fitness for woman's economic co-operation, so, far back in the mist of ages, the genius of religion and government began the preparatory work of her final debut as the full complement of man.

Old Thor strove with giants until, in the twilight of the gods, his hammer returned to him to be hurled no more. Jupiter, the weather-clearer, moved heaven and earth, swayed the tides of battle, and fostered in the hearts of men the ideas of law, justice and order, until he, too, sat frozen on his Olympian throne. Hermes, as he crossed the horizon of man's superstitious belief, scattered science and music in his flight, and passed to the paradise of the Egyptian gods. Brahma existed to abolish desire and initiate the human soul into the salvation of continued patience. Buddha, through contemplation and suffering, conquered the secret of deliverance for the human spirit as his bequest to the race. Confucius came, bearing reverently his system of moral philosophy, and dropped it into the world's ethical caldron; and, later, the carpenter's Son, poor, unlettered, filial, yet transcending at need all ills of earth and flesh, all schools, all human institutions–Jesus–stood upon the Mount of Olives and gave briefly to the world the full redeeming utterance of love, revealing the way, the truth, and the life, the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of the race.

Note the long process of ethical and religious culture filtering and refining through all the ages up to this present date of the Columbian Exposition; and, in the name of [Page 86]  the universal law of correspondence, mark the prestige it lends to woman, the new factor in economics, and the warranty it establishes for her final emancipation into all the efficiences and prerogatives of free citizenship. When that fruition arrives, when man and woman–the dual unity of the race–are equal partners in directing the forces of social destiny, we might almost imagine and believe that the material kingdom also may become transformed into joyous correspondence with the loving equity of the human world; that the serpent's venom and the insect's sting, the earthquake's mumbling threat and the direful sweep of the tornado's wing, will no longer find place in nature's record. Note also, that, parallel with the transformations in religious and ethical ideas which antedated woman's economic debut, have been the change in forms of government and social institutions. A beast of prey the primitive man rose to nomadic forms of culture, patriarchs gave place to kings and emperors, these in turn to constitutional monarchy, and this slowly to the democratic idea and the rights of man. The bloody track of governmental evolution, conspicuous with the panoply of war, was built upon fallen thrones and devastated dynasties, the sentiment of patriotism broadening, in the red struggle, from the family to the nation.

And woman–waited! Not yet the fullness of time for her awakening to the world's need of her citizenship. Something more of brute crudity must be eliminated from the tumultuous forces of civilization. Some broader conception of human life and its universal relations must modify the world's ferment ere woman would arise from her world-old, hypnotic trance to a realizing sense of her individual ability and power, and the need of her taking an equal hand with man in working out a universal order. The ages had thundered from the date of chaos, and she had not awakened. But there came a noiseless, white-winged thought into the human atmosphere, and woman arose and stood upon her feet, and knew herself, and the world's need, and this was the white-winged thought: "There is but one life and humanity is its spiritual image."

As the genius of the springtide sets all the forces of nature in sweetest passion for expression, so does this thought quicken the hearts of men and women into a mania to make the material interests of the entire humanity correspond to this spiritual fact. To a no less work than this is woman called and awakened: to convert discord into harmony, rivalry into emulation, jealousy into magnanimity, competition into co-operation, poverty into comfort, and the love of money into the love of man. Need I say that such a transformation of the motives of human action–slow, silent, invisible–must sooner or later work out a system of society and government in which each shall stand for all and all for each. It is but a question of time. The century plant that waits a hundred years for its life's fulfillment is no less certain of its final glory than the convolvulus that greets the dawn with expanded petals.

There is no uncertainty in the eternal goodness, and the inevitable advance of woman into all the lines of free citizenship is but a part of "that Divine event to which a whole creation moves."

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Rev. Augusta Cooper Bristol is a native of New Hampshire. She was born April 17,1835. Her parents were Otis Cooper and Hannah (Powers) Cooper. In 1866 she married Louis Bristol, a lawyer of Connecticut. She is a woman of big brain, well stored with valuable information, and one of the most graceful and profound writers and speakers of the present day. Her principal literary works are a volume of poems and various published lectures, some of which have been translated into French. She is a member of no special church at present, but in faith is Unitarian, and not infrequently speaks from the pulpit. Her postoffice address is Vineland, N. Y.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom