New York Times
SHOULD WOMAN HAVE WORK
OUTSIDE THE HOME ?
"This Is a Man-Made World," Says Prof. Thomas;
"Woman Has Been Crowded Out of It."
Problem: How Should the Married Woman Occupy Herself ?
A FEW decades ago the question even if addressed to advanced students of sociology, would scarcely have been regarded as one involving anything seriously problematic. The answer would be simple: a married woman should occupy herself in making a home for her husband and in rearing his children. Further elaboration of this obvious answer might suggest that the ideal wife, in to make a true home, would participate sympathetically in whatever interests her husband, and would be increasing in her care to provide her children with high incentives to right living. But her occupation would still be restricted in that one sphere of activity — the home.
The sociology of to-day, however, does not always content itself with the simple answers of the past. Woman’s position in the world has become a sort of storm-centre with many students of social science, and the old ideals, popularly voiced in the fictions of Dickens and Thackeray, have been called in question. Copperfield’s Agnes may have been capable, intelligent, devoted to her wifely duties, but was she, after all, the best kind of wife " A sociology, in analyzing he character to-day, might find her very charming and lovable, quite superior to Dora. David’s first matrimonial venture, but he would, in all probability — if he were a very up-to-date sociologist — dismiss her finally as being altogether too narrow in her way of looking at things, and making the best of her opportunities.
Such, at least, would be the attitude, it is safe to say, of W. I. Thomas, Professor of Sociology in the University of Chicago. For some years past, ever since the publication of his book, "Sex and Society," Professor Thomas has been known through his advocacy of various radical theories in regard to woman’s social status. According to him society’s future progress is largely dependent on what might be termed woman’s rehabilitation. An this rehabilitation, he conceives, must be undergone especially by the married women. As woman is today, he thinks, she is hardly ready for the big role that he believes she is ultimately destined to play.
The theory elaborated in Professor Thomas’s book, and in a number of magazine articles that he has contributed on the subject, is not always complimentary to the modern woman. The foibles and weaknesses of the latter he has criticized freely; but notwithstanding this incidental attitude, he is pretty generally regarded as a champion of woman and her social and political rights — the character in which he came to New York last week, under the auspices of the Collegiate Equal Suffrage League, for the purpose of lecturing in behalf of the movement in this State for woman suffrage.
How He Looks
Physically Professor Thomas is large and muscular. Meeting him casually one might set him down as being a prosperous, contented man of affairs, who has encountered few troubles in the world that he has not easily been able to master, and who is as a rule very well pleased with things as he finds them. That is not exactly the portrait of an idealist — the man who finds the world out of joint in some important particulars and who believes himself to be one who is "born to set it right," nor even of the typical college professor. But when one approaches Professor Thomas on his favorite theme, the man’s idealism soon shows itself in the intentness of eye and the calm enthusiasm that gets into his voice as he disposes of one objection after another, and, metaphorically, reconstructs society on a basis of sex equality that, to say the least, is as interesting as it is original.
A passage in one of Prof. Thomas’s articles deploring the "present abnormal and almost impossible matrimonial situation" suggest to the interviewer the opening wedge of a question — why is the matrimonial situation abnormal and impossible ?
"Because our married women have not, as a rule, interests and occupations that render them independent of their husbands," was Prof. Thomas’s quiet answer. "Dependence of the wife on the husband is one of the chief obstacles in the way of a truly normal, happy marriage.
"Ages ago this inequality of sex did not exist. There was a time when woman, besides the duties that came to her with motherhood, had almost monopoly of the industrial occupations. Man was either a fighting animal making war on his fellows and protecting the community in which he lived through his military prowess, or else he was engaged in the lucrative pastime of the chase. To the woman was left the more solid, steadier activities upon which the home was founded and sustained. This relative position of the sexes, however, became changed in the course of time. As the life of the community became more complex and reached out into wider directions, first one and then another of the occupations that had belonged to woman was taken from her and monopolized by men. Finally there came a time when woman’s work in the world might be said to be purely ornamental. Her occupation was restricted to the raising if children and to the management of the home. If she showed a liking for more than this the jealous male criticised what he called her lack of womanliness. In this way there grew up about woman a thoroughly artificial environment, an enforced idleness that prevented her from developing to its full extent the life that is normally hers.
"Naturally, no one would advocate going back to the semi-savage state, when woman practically did all the work. But, it must be remembered, work is not a hardship, it is a right; and when man took away from woman the right to work he placed upon her shoulders the burden of idleness, which is really the greatest and most enervating of hardships. The real trouble to-day lies in the fact that woman has not enough work to do."
"But in raising children and in making and running the home is there not enough work and of the most suitable for women to undertake ?"
"A child is only an incident in the life of a woman. The woman whose activities are restricted to the raising of children must inevitably find herself, sooner or later, without employment. If he children furnish her with her only or her chief occupation she will be Oslerized at the age of 40 or 50. There is nothing more serious, of course, nothing more important to the future welfare of the community than the raising of children. But the woman who knows nothing, through her own practical experience, of the world’s activities, whose horizon is limited by the boundaries of her home, is really unfitted to bestow the best care on her children and is preparing for herself an unutterably dreary old age.
Investing in Marriage.
"Why do women marry " Too many of them look upon a husband merely as a means of support, and they invest in marriage accordingly. The danger shows itself before marriage. Many a girl is brought up without any gainful occupation. She is dependent upon other for her support. She has ‘no place in the world," as it is commonly termed. Naturally, the situation is irksome to her, and she sets about bettering her condition. The weight of custom, the venerable social traditions handed down to us from our ancestors, prescribes what the young woman should do under these circumstances — marry. Marriage is the thoughtless woman’s refuge from a world that she does not comprehend. It brings her the support and the position that she needs, and society decrees that it is right for her to accept these things at the hands of her husband without making any return in kind to him. She is in a state of dependence before marriage, and that condition is naturally increased by marriage.
"As a first precaution against matrimonial unhappiness it would be well if the woman, before entering upon marriage, should make herself, through the cultivation of some gainful occupation, independent in the worldly sense of the word. It is woman’s dependence upon man that warps her judgment, that makes her see things in an artificial rather than a natural light. An ideal marriage means a union of equals, a contract between two independent people, each engaged in his or her own occupation, and attracted to each other by a feeling of mutual friendship. But where the woman in this union is without an outside occupation marriage becomes, for her at least, a barren waste of energy."
"Even when the married woman is engrossed in the cares of housekeeping and motherhood ?"
"Even with a full quota of housekeeping activities and the duties of motherhood there still remains a large margin that needs to be filled by outside occupations. It is the enforced idleness of the married woman that creates the nervousness from which she so often suffers, and that not infrequently wrecks her health and happiness. The human mind craves more than is contained in the narrow circle of home as food for its thought. Without enrichment from the larger world outside that circle, it becomes sterile. Thus, as a simply consequence of a law in psychology, a married woman, needs the stimulus of an outside occupation."
"Where will she find it ? What opportunities are open to the woman whose time, at least much of it, must be spent in the work of the home ?"
A Man-made World
"Ah, that is the unfortunate part of it, of course. This is a man-made world: woman has been crowded out of it. The man decrees that if the woman becomes a wife it is her duty to be a housekeeper and a mother. If her energy demands more than this let her occupy herself with the ornamental work comprised in that bundle of inanities known as ‘society.’ The real, inspiring work of the world belongs to man. That is the situation confronting the married woman who would emancipate herself from the narrowing condition of dependence. The great need is for outside occupations that are suitable for women, that have not been created merely for man and by man — occupations, that is, that will not put woman competitively at a disadvantage. And the situation exists, of course, simply as a result of the long ages in which woman has not been allowed to work, practically, outside of the home."
The difficulties of this situation Prof. Thomas thus describes further in his book, "Sex and Society,."
"Not only are women unable and unwilling to be communicated with directly, unconventionally, and truly, on many subjects, but men are unwilling to talk to them. * * * Even the most serious women of the present day stand, in any work they undertake, in precisely the same relation to man that the amateur stands in relation to the professional in games. They may be desperately interested, and may work to the limit of endurance at times, but, like the amateur, they get into the game late and have not had a lifetime of practice, or they do not have the advantage of that pace to be gained only by competing with players of the very first rank. No one will contend that the amateur in billiards has a nervous organization less fitted to the game than the professional’s; it is admitted that the difference lies in the constant practice. * * * A group of women would make a sorry spectacle in competition with a set of men who made billiards their life work. But how sad a showing a group of philosophers would make in the same competition!
"There is no question of woman’s ability," continued Prof. Thomas, to take up the work of the world. The difficulty lies in her lack of practice.
"And in her strength to add outside work to her already confining duties as a wife and mother," was suggested.
"Physiologically, woman is much stronger than man in matters requiring prolonged powers of endurance. She can do more work than man without suffering the breakdown that so often comes to him under the guise of that disheartening malady known as ‘overwork." Woman’s malady is underwork. Because she is the ‘bearer of the torch of life,’ nature has endowed her with an amount of surplus energy that is more than sufficient to make her an active worker outside the home. This physiological superiority is well recognized by men of science, and is merely the result of statistical test in various ways. Thus, for instance, in the matter of longevity. There are on an average 105 boys born to 103 girls. That gives the advantage of numbers to the male part of the population in the beginning. At the other end of the record, however, the average is reversed, and there are a great many more old women than there are old men. Then, again, it is well known that a woman can stand a surgical operation far more successfully than can a man, that she can live in high altitudes with a less degree of physical distress than man, and — did you ever figure out for yourself the amount of physical wear and tear that the nursing mother must undergo who gets up half a dozen times in a night to look after a baby ? Fancy what would become of the man who had that burden to bear. Would it be possible for him to work in the daytime with his usual force after such a night of horrors? And yet the nursing mother has this to endure for months at a time — and apparently it makes no appreciable inroads in her surplus of energy.
Should be Real Work.
"But the outside occupation for the married woman, the occupation that will bring into her life the broadening influences of the world that lies above and beyond her little hearthstone, and that will enable her to meet her husband on the common ground of the mutual friendship and esteem that is fostered by a mingling of independent and impersonal interests — where find this occupation ? It should be of a remunerative character. Playing at work is a meaningless business, after all, and has been the cause, among other causes, of forcing woman into her present artificial position. Moreover, it should adjust itself to the functions that come with motherhood. Woman heeds work in order to become the best kind of mother; it is merely a habit of thought, based on a wrong premise, that leads her to the belief that an outside occupation should be abandoned when she marries. But the work must be of the right kind, suitable to her condition — there is no sight more deplorable than the child-bearing woman who is forced to toil in a factory. In a man-made world, however, where will these suitable occupations come from ?
"Woman, of course, will solve this question for herself — and she is solving it already. In Chicago — and I do not doubt that much the same thins is in evidence in other great cities — the whole question of the relation of the child to the State is absorbing woman’s attention, and inspiring her to the development of innumerable new activities. Thus, it was the women of Chicago who brought about the segregation of the children from the adult criminals; it was the women, practically, who created our juvenile court and who subsequently organized the school of detention for young criminals. The whole view of child life has been modified by women since they have thus interested themselves actively in a phase of it that has heretofore been left to the men, and the result, it the future betterment of the race is quite beyond estimate. This particular evidence of woman’s activity is typical of the modifying influence that she is bound to exert on the work of the world, at the same time that it shows how different from man’s is the view that she takes of a really vital matter. Man has busied himself in the correction of crime, woman is absorbed in its prevention. In the warfare of the world man has taken care for the dead and the wounded, woman is laboring to bring about a condition in which there will be no dead or wounded to care for. In the long ages of man’s supremacy, ‘charity’ has been the blundering remedy applied to human suffering and misfortune; woman seeks a lasting cure for the same ills through the exercise of a justice that is tempered by mercy.
"This is not mere sentiment, born of the so-called ‘chivalrous regard’ that men are taught to cherish for women. Mercy is recognized by scientists as being a strong secondary sexual character, and wherever woman, with her deep maternal instinct, becomes a factor in the large affairs of human life, it is natural that we should find her as a bearer of mercy.
"With woman once more taking an equal part with man in the work of the world, we may expect to see the development of a more humane society, an extension of the ‘quality of mercy’ that man, by the very composition of his nature, has not known how to use, but which in the hands of woman is bound to have a transforming effect on the world. Woman is beginning to rebel against the position of dependence that she has been forced to occupy for so long. She is giving practical demonstration of the need that the world has for her work, and when to her social emancipation is added the political enfranchisement that is due her, she will be able to live out the complete normal life, with its possibilities of benefit to her fellow-beings that has ever been in her."
"But why, if woman is already beginning to take her natural part in the affairs of the world, and is thus fulfilling her destiny, why hamper her with the franchise ?"
"Because women, in some instances, are finding themselves in a position where they can participate in and influence the world’s affairs, and are thus enjoying the natural life of activity that they crave, is not a valid reason for withholding from them and extension of their sphere. In the old slavery days the humane slave holder argued, with much seeming plausibility, that his negroes were better off as slaves than as freemen. Consequently, since the negro proved that he could be thoroughly happy under slavery, it was a dangerous folly to give him his freedom.
"Women stand for a new idea of life. She has been able to put this idea to a practical test in certain isolated instances, and it spite of the fact that she has to fight against man-made conditions. But it is natural that she should wish for an equal vote in the control of those conditions, in order that she may carry out her ideas to their complete fulfillment. The vote is the instrument by which she hopes to accomplish this — and this it is as a practical help to her in her mission of mercy, and not as a mere abstract right, that she seeks political enfranchisement."