MIA: Library: Mary Beard, Woman as a Force in History, 1946
Woman as a Force in History. Mary Beard 1946
Attitudes of Women
IN THE democratic republic of the United States, where free speech and a free press were cherished as vital manifestations of its political principles, what views were women expressing about the relations of men and women during the long period in which revolutions and two world wars were tearing old societies asunder? What were the prevailing winds of their opinions respecting revolution or gradual evolution, war and peace, the force of arms and the force of character, the common enterprises of men and women, and their distinctive tastes and purposes? Since speech, whether censored or free, makes use of ideas and is affected by ideas, vaguely formulated or clearly defined, what were the ideas that appeared in the views and opinions of women? Every intelligent and comprehensive endeavor to advance knowledge pertaining to the man-woman relationship must be preceded by or opened with an inquiry into the stock of ideas or theories with which that relationship is discussed by women and by men representing various types of articulated activity.
When in 1944 political feminists associated with the National Woman’s Party conducted the campaign which forced the two major political parties to endorse a proposal to establish equal rights for women by Federal amendment, they used as a lever an assertion on the nature and history of man-woman relations made by M. Carey Thomas. Miss Thomas had been dead for several years but her spirit still charged this party with the determination to right what it believed to be historic wrongs. Miss Thomas had been no light-hearted journalist, free and easy with speech and unlearned in the lore of men’s universities. She had studied long and zealously at Cornell University and in Europe. She held the high degree, Doctor of Philosophy, won summa cum laude at Leipzig. From 1894 to 1922 she presided over the education of young women at Bryn Mawr College. In her time she had been widely acclaimed as a scholar and as a leader in “the progress of women.”
And this was her theory of the man-woman relationship in the past, her interpretation of it in long history: “Women are born, living their lives, and dying without the justice which they have been waiting for since the time of the caveman... . Forever behind a woman is the mediaeval English common law which places upon her the stigma of inferiority and bondage.”
In an address, delivered before the North American Woman Suffrage Association at Buffalo, in October, 1908, Miss Thomas declared: “The true objection to woman suffrage lies far deeper than any argument. Giving women the ballot is the visible sign and symbol of a stupendous social revolution and before it we are afraid. Women are one-half of the world but until a century ago the world of music and painting and sculpture and literature and scholarship and science was a. man’s world. The world of trades and professions and of work of all kinds was a man’s world. Women lived a twilight life, a half-life apart, and looked out and saw men as shadows walking. It was a man’s world. The laws were man’s laws, the government a man’s government, the country a man’s country... . The man’s world must become a man’s and a woman’s world. Why are we afraid? It is the next step forward on the path toward the sunrise, and the sun is rising over a new heaven and a new earth.”
A similar idea colored Miss Thomas’ formal pronouncements on “Progress” in education for women. Speaking to collegiate alumnae at Boston on November 6, 1907, she referred to her early fear that women, long deprived of higher education, might not be able to master the Greek language, for instance, or have the physical hardihood to go through the rigors of college and university training. In taking this line she overlooked the fact that in the middle ages a multitude of women, in Italy and other parts of Europe, had achieved distinguished scholarship in Greek and Latin learning; and she was apparently unaware that many American women, in colonial times and for years before colleges were opened to them, had displayed the capacity to master classical learning and use it in their writings.
Ignoring such chapters in the intellectual history of women, Miss Thomas assumed that competition with men in the whole curriculum of higher learning was also a biological test – a test of women’s physical power. When she discovered in the course of her college presidency that young women could “take” young men’s education and come through with flying colors, she was exuberant. This was for Miss Thomas evidence that women were by nature equals of men in such important respects and were winning some justice, if slowly, at the hands of the autocratic male. Modeling educational programs for women after man’s programs was a sign of “progress,” for his historic slaves.
Dr. M. Carey Thomas’ view of women “since the time of the caveman” received substantial support in respect of “education” by one of her younger contemporaries, Elizabeth K. Adams. The confirmation was presented in an essay on women’s education published in A Cyclopedia of Education, the last volume of which appeared in 1913. At the time Miss Adams was professor of psychology and education at Smith College. She held the degree of Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College and the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Chicago. Before her call to Smith, she had served as a teacher at Vassar and in the College for Women in Western Reserve University. To Dr. Adams was assigned by the editor of the Cyclopedia, Professor Paul Munroe, the task of writing the article on the higher education of women, a historical sketch.
Conforming to the frame of reference set by the editor, like other authors of articles in this Cyclopedia Dr. Adams conceived education almost entirely in terms of formal instruction in schools and the educated person in terms of the formal learning acquired under professional educators. Thus a narrow circle was drawn about education and from that circle was excluded everything and everybody who did not come within the fixed pattern of training. According to that test, relatively little education had existed before the modern age and relatively few women could now be regarded as educated. This tight rule was not without exceptions but they received curt notice in Dr. Adams’ essay.
The history of women’s “education” in Greek and Roman antiquity Dr. Adams disposed of very briefly. “No part of the history of education,” she wrote, “is so obscure as that of the education of girls. This obscurity is itself suggestive that little is known because there is little to know.” Without attempting to indicate the original sources from which knowledge of the subject, such as it is, might have been gathered, she said of Greece: “Our educational institutions and practices descend from Greece (q. v.). In Ionian Hellas it seems to have been an accepted dogma that no respectable girl was educated; education, including a knowledge of music , singing, poetry, and the power of conversation, was left to the Hetaerae. See Greece, Education in.”
The author of the article on education in ancient Greece, J. P. Mahaffy, D.D., to whom Dr. Adams referred her readers for further information, likewise disposed of women in a few swift strokes: “If nothing has been said about the education of girls, it is only because nothing is known about it. Xenophon represents a bride coming into her husband’s house, having lived her youth in darkness and in fear, knowing nothing but how to adorn her person and that artificially, with powder and rouge, and with enhancements of dress. The Spartan women brought up in great liberty, and freed from the strict discipline of the men, are spoken of now as specimens of bravery and patriotism, now as turbulent and mischievous to the peace and order of the state. But except that they trained openly like the boys, we know nothing of their education.”
Having curtly dismissed women in ancient Greece, Dr. Adams did the same for women in ancient Rome. “At Rome,” she wrote , “ on the other hand, it has been positively asserted that girls received the same education as boys and attended the same schools. But the assertion is an absolute contradiction to the whole attitude of Roman law and Roman thought to women. If, however, little girls did go to the grammar schools, these were little more than preparatory schools up to thirteen or fourteen years old... . Some women undoubtedly were well educated, like Cornelia ... . But it is significantly added that she was not a prig ... . The absolute absence in Quintilian of any reference to the education of girls may be taken as conclusive that as a rule they were not educated... . The female philosophy lecturer, Hypatia (q. v.), seems to have been a solitary phenomenon, and it is on record that she was taught by her father, himself a professor.”
Although, as she came up to modern times in the history of women’s education, Dr. Adams dealt with widening opportunities for women, she in effect declared that from the time of the caveman until the fall of Rome the brand of ignorance and inferiority had been stamped on women. Unintentionally perhaps, or limited by the concept of formal education, she gave the net impression that for thousands of years women had neither received nor achieved an education, as if their intellectual life, apart from the household arts, had been close to or actually at zero.
The monumental work in which Dr. Adams’ article appeared, edited by a professor of Education in Teachers College, Columbia University, was for a long time a powerful instrument in the training, of American teachers, the overwhelming majority of whom were women. The library of no normal school was complete without the Cyclopedia. It quickly became the first work of ready reference for school superintendents, principals, and classroom teachers as well as students of education in general. Probably no other single treatise of the period did more to provide the materials and theories employed by educational leaders and thinkers for a whole generation.
Another leading educator at the opening of the twentieth century, Mrs. Emily James Putnam, while a bit wary of the unqualified subjection theory, was inclined to the opinion that, with the development of wealth and refinements, women had acquired a fixed penchant for an easy life, if not dependency – especially women of the upper class. Mrs. Putnam was a scholar trained especially in classical literature and had an especial interest in Greek writings. Indeed she taught Greek literature and history before and after her services as dean of Barnard College from 1894 to 1900. Relishing Lucian, selections from whose works she translated and published in 1892, she allowed a little humor to lighten the gravity of her volume on The Lady, issued in 1910. In this portrayal of the grande dame from ancient times, through the middle ages, and up into the ante-bellum period of American history, Mrs. Putnam claimed , however, that there had been a rigid biological determinism and corresponding psychological response in the Lady’s relation to the Gentleman.
Without going far into the documents bearing on woman in the most primitive times, Mrs. Putnam insisted on “the uncontrovertible fact of physical subjection.” Whatever may have been the state of woman in the earliest days of human beginnings, Mrs. Putnam said that “by degrees the woman’s enforced specialisation of function affected her both physically and psychologically.”
From the cautious word “affected,” Mrs. Putnam moved into more deterministic language: “Her stature, weight and muscular strength became ever more noticeably less than those of the man, and to his explosive mental action she opposed her illimitable patience. As the ground of gentility came to lie more and more in superior prowess, exerted gradually not only upon women but upon the weaker men, it must have seemed to the sociologists of early barbarism that woman with her confessed and growing physical inferiority was debarred forever from the gentle class. She had it is true certain moral holds upon the veneration of the group, based chiefly on her relation to the occult and her mysterious connection with nature as the source of life. And when the gentility of the strong man became hereditary, his daughter had a theoretical share in it. But these psychological claims to social distinction for the woman were always checked by the uncontrovertible fact of physical subjection. There was no thinkable way in which the woman could emancipate herself... . It must have seemed to her then that the only escape from drudgery, which after all was within her strength, lay through violence and exploit which by this time were beyond it. Until changing economic conditions made the thing actually happen, struggling early society could hardly have guessed that woman’s road to gentility would lie through doing nothing at all.”
The theory that women had been members of a subject sex throughout long history, but coupled with a plan for their emancipation by socialism or communism, found expression with increasing force in the United States as the twentieth century advanced. Among the women who expounded this theory of woman none was more influential than Charlotte Perkins Stetson who long before her death in 1935 attained national and international fame as an exponent of a new feminism. Hampered by poverty during her youth and young womanhood, she educated herself by extensive reading in anthropology, sociology, and economics, while she supported herself by teaching art and painting advertising cards and trinkets. In her writings she ranged from light, humorous verse and witty narrative poetry, through articles gravely gay and wholly serious books, to novels. Captivated by Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, published in 1888, Mrs. Stetson discovered in idealistic socialism what she deemed the clue to the emancipation of women and joined the disciples of Bellamy. Henceforward, with growing stress, she dwelt on the economic aspects of the “woman question.”
Mrs. Stetson’s first volume was a collection of poems, In This Our World, later enlarged and reissued. Her first treatise on women appeared in 1898 – Woman and Economics – received immediate interest, was translated into at least six foreign languages including Hungarian and Japanese, and marked her rapid rise to intellectual leadership in the woman movement.
In swift succession other volumes flowed from Mrs. Stetson’s pen. These included Concerning Children; The Home, Its Work and Influence; Human Work; The Man-Made World; His Religion and Hers; and finally an autobiography issued after her death. So impressed by her writings was W. D. Howells as early as 1902 that he declared: “She has enriched the literary center of New York by the addition of a talent in sociological satire which would be extraordinary even if it were not altogether unrivaled among us.” In 1909, several years after her second marriage, to George H. Gilman of New York, Mrs. Gilman founded an unique magazine, The Forerunner, and for seven years served as editor, sole contributor, and publisher.
Her belief in woman’s long subjection to man was embodied in the following lines, quoted from a poem in her collection entitled In This Our World:
Close, close he bound her, that she should leave him never.
Weak still he kept her, lest she be strong to flee;
And the fainting flame of passion he kept alive forever
With all the arts and forces of earth and sky and sea.
But the future could be different, she believed. It had been and was woman’s economic dependence on man that kept her in thrall. This was Mrs. Gilman’s contention, especially, in Woman and Economics.
Hence, she concluded, woman – especially the mother as guardian of the social spirit in social evolution – when freed from economic bondage to her mate would achieve liberty and make her “culture” and her “religion” prevail over his culture and his religion. And this economic freedom was to be won through various economic institutions of a collectivist nature, especially a form of cooperative living that would ease, if not abolish, the home drudgery of woman.
To the old doctrine, so often advanced by parsons and laymen, that “woman’s place is in the home,” Mrs. Gilman opposed the doctrine that woman’s place is in community and public life. In a poem on the assumption of male prerogatives, she stated the case in boasting words by the male:
I sing to the wide world
And she to the nest.
But Mrs. Gilman did not deride singing to the nest. She approved it and gave it social significance. She proposed, however, that henceforward there should be a common singing to the wide world, her idea being that such singing had been done by man alone.
Conservatives, on their part, asserted that the change could not be made; that it was against human nature. In a long narrative poem, “Similar Cases,” Mrs. Gilman satirized resistance to change from the days of the anthropoidal ape – the burden of the lay being the old cry: “Why! you’d have to change your nature! ... The thing cannot be done.” This poem was widely enjoyed. It became a favorite of Woodrow Wilson, who in 19 12 capitalized upon the progressive and socialist movements and became President of the United States.
Mrs. Gilman made much of the biological argument in framing her program for women and with considerable ingenuity affiliated it with economics, on the solid ground that life, whatever its nature, must be sustained by economic operations. But instead of accepting biological factors as inescapable determinants she maintained, in line with the teachings of her philosophic friend, Lester F. Ward the sociologist, that the human mind could control economic environment by social inventions and thus give wholly different expressions to many primary aspects of biological force.
To the tumult of talking and writing about superiorities and inferiorities of men and women, all keyed to concepts of progress or backwardness on the part of women, Olga Knopf brought opinions plainly influenced by the psychological theories of Dr. Alfred Adler of Vienna. Dr. Knopf came to New York from Vienna and in her adopted city she taught and wrote about women. In The Art of Being a Woman, published in 1932, she opened with a chapter on women in past and present cultures, in which she displayed her fidelity to the popular doctrine that woman had long been subordinate to man in the eyes of the law. Then she commented on the “surprising change” that had taken place in “the past fifty years,” making women “in almost every Western nation” legally equal with men, on paper.
Nevertheless, she found that “the sexes are living, we might say, in a vast communal neurosis; a highly contagious neurosis which parents pass on to their children and men and women pass on to each other.”
Was there a remedy? Certainly – in personal character, in “individual psychology.” “I am no feminist myself,” Dr. Knopf assured the public. “The freedom that women claim can only come when men and women realize in their hearts that they are equal and that their interests in this world are common interests... . Many feminists, naturally enough, have made the mistake of arguing that women are equal to men because they are superior to them; and many anti-feminists have replied, still less logically, that because women are superior they are inferior.”
Dr. Knopf advocated a release from the “vast communal neurosis” by psychiatric treatment. “Health is as contagious as neurosis” if it can be attained, she said. “The art of being a woman can never consist in being a bad imitation of a man. It can consist only in being equal, independent, and cooperative; in understanding human nature and human capacities and in applying the knowledge first of all to oneself.” In an effort to aid this understanding she drew to some extent on historical materials, indicating variations in the power of males and females in times and places and the similarity of power among the ancient Egyptians. Character, in short, could be in some measure developed by knowledge or thought of history.
In 1935, however, Dr. Knopf revealed what seemed to be a distinctly feminist leaning which relied less on individual psychology and more on social legislation directed to economic equality between the sexes. This trend was patent in her new book, Women on Their Own, in which she said: “A few years ago one could easily have taken it for granted that the battle of the ‘independent woman’ would end in success... . It is not quite so easy now to be optimistic over the progress of women. One is bound to feel that those advances are not yet stable... . The outer limitations to women’s progress are caused by the fact that we are living in a man’s culture.”
Dr. Maude Glasgow, trained in medicine and a successful practitioner in New York, voiced a similar opinion respecting the long subjection of women, but expressed it in a more emphatic form, one akin to that of Dr. M. Carey Thomas. In her book, The Subjection of Women and the Traditions of Men, published in 1940, Dr. Glasgow presented her view of woman in history in this categorical statement: “For more than six thousand years the history of woman has been one of hopeless sadness. She moved only to the clank of chains, and her vain desire for better and higher things could not find expression, for woman was by force of circumstances inarticulate. Detraction of one sex and exaltation of the other became a habit of mind expressed in law, in religion, in literature as well as in the ordinary activities of everyday life.”
Yet Dr. Glasgow assumed that there had been a golden age for woman in the prehistoric past: “When new-born humanity was learning to stand upright, it depended much on its mother and stood close to her protecting side. Then women were goddesses, they conducted divine worship, woman’s voice was heard in council, she was loved and revered and genealogies were reckoned through her.”
What broke into this feminine Elysium and robbed it of liberty and happiness? The male of the species. “As the race grew older, rationality flourished at the expense of moral sense.” It was irrational to esteem and appreciate the mother? Seemingly it was: “Man, unmindful of the mother’s contribution to racial uplift and welfare, thought only of bending every energy and forcing tribute from everything and every one who could elevate himself and give him dominating power. So from the blubber consuming Esquimaux to the dusky Madagascar chief whose feet must be licked by his wives, and to the repulsive Kalmuck with his gray flat sinister face who beats his wife to submission, all demand that woman must always remain, figuratively-speaking, on her knees and look up in fear and dread to this self-made god drowned in ignorance and superstition.”
It was not merely in addresses by women trained in universities and holding academic positions or positions in other professions nor in books offered to a few thousand readers that the man-woman issue was discussed by American women. The issue was taken to that larger forum represented by the popular magazines and there it was turned round and round by writers whose names commanded attention. Through these journals, deliberately catering to “live” interests, thousands of readers scattered far and wide were drawn into the man-woman debate.
After publishing her novel on China, The Good Earth, which received the Nobel Prize, Pearl Buck, in articles, as well as books, frequently dealt with men and women in the Occident. In the summer of 1938 she announced through the pages of Harper’s magazine that American women were really mediaeval women in their philosophy of life and ways of life. Where did she acquire this idea of contemporary American women? Naturally, from her notion of mediaeval women, coupled with her experiences as a successful author invited to the homes of prosperous business men and leisured wives. At all events, moving in that circle, she heard men cast aspersions on women and found that women resented the practice. After a time Mrs. Buck came to the conclusion that such women deserved some if not all the anathemas hurled at them, because they did not press out into the big world, compete vigorously with men, test their capacities, and show the people what they could do.
But Mrs. Buck’s strictures on women and her ideal for them. did not pass without resolute comment. In an article published by Harper’s the next year a scolding was undertaken by Grace Adams, Doctor of Philosophy from Cornell University and specialist in psychology. The title of Dr. Adams’ article, “American Women Are Coming Along,” indicated her qualifications, but a certain amount of approval for Mrs. Buck’s theory appeared in the substance of the article. The imaginary point or status in time from which women were “coming along” was evidently that described by Mary Wollstonecraft and by the American women and men of 1848 who, at their convention in Seneca Falls, proclaimed the historic subjection of women. Still there were evidences, Dr. Adams thought, that women had not come very far along.
“Whenever serious intellectuals,” she wrote, “psychologists, sociologists, practicing physicians, Nobel Prize novelists, take time off from their normal pursuits to scrutinize and appraise the modern American Woman they turn in unanimously dreary reports. They find her uninformed, intellectually lazy, lacking in ambition, and disgustingly docile in the presence of dominating males.” While admitting that some of these criticisms of woman were warranted, Miss Adams then confessed “a sneaking suspicion that the intellectuals who condemn her so highhandedly on these counts are not themselves quite as alert or well-informed as they might be.”
Dr. Adams was, indeed, of the opinion that nineteenth-century forerunners of the woman movement, such as Fanny Wright and Margaret Fuller, if they could see what women had achieved by 1939, “might judge us a little less unkindly than Pearl Buck in this magazine last summer... . Knowing the whole of woman’s history, as they must by now have learned it from the hetaerae and kings’ mistresses who were already old inhabitants of. the particular part of hell to which they were condemned, they [the forerunners] must, I believe, feel not unsatisfied with what they were able to do for us modern American women.... For we ... have ... been ... able to achieve the very things which Wollstonecraft herself considered most essential to a truly happy womanhood.”
And what had American women achieved by 1939? “We now .have not only the affection and admiration but the sympathetic understanding and the complete confidence of the men who marry us... . Women in America ... have a long way to go before they become the true professional and industrial equals of men. But they will probably, unless America itself blows up in the meanwhile, have plenty of time in which to make the journey.” In her concluding paragraph, Dr. Adams displayed more assurance: “Now that women have learned to understand men as they are, to think as men think, and to worry and laugh as they do, they have already found a firmer foundation for their eventual rise to equality than either they or their critics realize.”
Women were on the march, and not “back to the kitchen,” Rose C. Feld declared in a featured article in the New York Times. This she concluded from a kind of Gallup poll she took among leaders of business and professional women in 1935. Despite the competitive hardships which that period of American and general depression imposed on women, their slogan was in effect: Forward to the individualistic struggle among struggling men! Unshaken was their confidence that if women kept the star of equal-right-to-compete as their guiding light their happiness would be attained. Proletarians might have to drop by the wayside as factories closed and manual workers were thrown into the streets, deprived of wage envelopes, but “as for the individual woman, she can summon all her courage and assail the barriers, leading even though the mass of her sisters cannot follow.” She can exhibit force. Remembering the feminist ideal, formulated for her incitement to “achievement” by the women of 1848, fully aware of the bitterness accompanying her attack on the barriers in many lines of endeavor, the courageous individualist was determined to “hold fast to her freedom,” whatever the cost.
In 1941 Pearl Buck came back to the theme of defeated American women and methods for emancipating them – this time in a book, Of Men and Women. In her first chapter she accented the significance of the man-woman issue, saying that “the basic discovery about any people is the discovery of the relationship between its men and women.” Unless one understands the way men and women feel toward each other and appreciates “the place each has in the life of the whoIe,” one fails to grasp the reality of a country and its people.
As if to provide an informing background for picturing lazy and frustrated American women, Mrs. Buck made graphic delineations of Chinese women as women of personality, poise, and power. She had grown up in China where her parents were missionaries and naturally had strong impressions of Chinese life. The great Chinese family, according to Mrs. Buck, before it began to crumble in recent times, was a grand harmonious institution, a center of happiness for husband and wife, a community of like-minded and like-spirited human beings who enjoyed together the events and details of life – a system so honorable for women and felt to be so honorable by women that feminine qualities “began to be accepted as the essentials of a civilized people.”
Nevertheless the Chinese woman, as Mrs. Buck described her in the great and grandly harmonious family system, was grossly ignorant. Though “even men were made an integral part of the home which Chinese women ruled,” while all was happiness supreme, fathers tore their little sons from that rule to be reared by men. But woman, though grossly ignorant, was man’s superior. “Long before modern China gave to women complete equality, woman in China was man’s superior.” Not only that: “The qualities of the feminine intelligence are exactly the qualities of the Chinese mind,” she quoted from Lin Yutang.
Nor merely that. Pearl Buck applauded the change made by modern China in giving women “complete equality.” She did more: “In fact, I have even suspected that when the modem revolution came he [man] was glad to insist on her becoming only equal with him at last. It was a forward step for him, and she lost by it. She had to stop being a willful creature who made the most of her ignorance and who got all she wanted by pretending to be childish and irresponsible and weak and charming while actually she was strong, tough, executively able, and mentally shrewd.”
The woman in the great Chinese family system got all she wanted? Pearl Buck related, a propos that story of willfulness, how many Chinese women took time off from getting all they wanted by childish wiles to make difficult trips to visit her own mother, an alien missionary in China, and confess to her “their sad stories of how the night through they have stuffed their quilts into their mouths, silk quilts, ragged quilts, so that man could not hear the sound of weeping. But they always believed their men were doing right,” even when their men brought concubines into the great harmonious family to compete for the favor of their happy men. If domestic harmony required smothering the cries, were the feminine qualities which led to the smothering “exactly the qualities of the Chinese mind"?
If so, how did modern China happen to establish “complete equality” between men and women? And what did this mean for China and its mind? The answer was proffered by Mrs. Buck in these words: “It was man in China who hastened to write into the constitution that woman had to be equal with him and accept equal responsibility as an adult individual. He gladly threw open all schools and professions to her, and what must his satisfaction be today as he sees her take her gun and march beside him to battle!” A student of Chinese constitutional history might pause to ask at this point: just what and where is this constitution that makes Chinese women the equals of men in rights and responsibilities and how enforced in various regions of China?
Taking it for granted, however, that there is a constitution and that it is enforced, there must be an upshot as far as China is concerned. As to that point Mrs. Buck referred to the old family and by implication described the ancient evils to which the new order offered such a contrast: “Thus do men always suffer when women are ignorant. They suffer more than women, not only because women are stronger than men and more resistant, but because men are peculiarly vulnerable to the damage ignorant women can do at the periods of their life when they most need intelligent and wise care: in infancy, in adolescence, in times of illness and mental and emotional crisis, and in old age. Wise China saw this, too, and endeavored to mitigate the danger by taking boys out of the care of women early in childhood.” So presumably the “complete equality” in modern China has, by “the constitution,” changed or removed all that once was unfortunate or evil in that general situation.
Having thus reported the striking features of happy domestic scenes in China, Mrs. Buck drew the contrasts presented in the United States as she understood them. Two classes of American women, she assumed, are successful or happy or both: talented women in the arduous pursuit of careers and women who find their vocations in the home; but their number combined is proportionately “very small.” The rest of the American women are privileged, too privileged. They have the privilege of “non-competitive work,” security, and privacy behind the sheltering walls of the home. They are not compelled by necessity to go out into the world, as man does, and earn their bread in the sweat of their brows in competition with him. They tend to futility. They are not reduced to subjection by man’s superiority. They prefer to be little or nothing in the world. The American woman of this type is “free” to come and go; she has had an education; she is pampered rather than oppressed by man, “yet there is the same look of defeat in her eyes that there is in the Indian woman’s.” She is restless, silly, irritable, instable – a failure – nothing in history.
What then is the remedy? Mrs. Buck prescribed a simple formula: let women bestir themselves, cast off their lethargy, sharpen their talents, and go out like men to meet the competition of all comers in the forum of the big world. In freedom and equal opportunity – “the greatest freedom consistent with equal opportunity” – women and men will find harmony and fulfillment.
Organized feminists, as well as individual propagandists of the word, were committed to the ideal of life as a battle for place and power in the economic and political sphere. Such was the position taken by the National and International Federations of Business and Professional Women, until the opening of the year 1945. In their journal, Independent Woman, and their bulletin, Widening Horizons, these women steadily asserted their determination to get more women into positions of power and into higher places of business, industry, and the professions. From week to week they sought to strengthen their organizations, which were closely affiliated, with the objective of obtaining equal rights of combat in all fields of money-power and political influence.
This note of combat for places in “the man’s world” was sounded in 1937 when the International Federation assembled in convention at Stockholm and framed a Three Year Objective. Yet this note was blended with the note of women’s enthusiasm for “rendering their utmost service to humanity.” There the president of the International, Lena Madesin Phillips of New York, proposed “Service” as the motto for the Federation. During the discussion of the subject Dr. Signe Svensson of Stockholm voiced the spirit of the meeting in these words: “It has been said that when the women pioneers were fighting for suffrage they forgot to teach women how to use their suffrage. I think that a part of our task must be to teach women to use the suffrage and use it in the right way.” What was the “right” way? “To succeed in putting women into public office, we must educate the great body of women to take responsibility and to use their citizenship. I think it is necessary for us also to educate men to understand that we will work not only for ourselves, but for the improvement of the whole world, if we do get into office. Then there need be no opposition: we can all work together.”
How did these women visualize the improvement of the whole world? Both by word and by implication they took the public into their confidence. If the way were made easier and opened wider for business and professional women to “advance” from inequalities to competitive equality, women would be able to express their personalities to the good of all societies.
In February, 1945, “The World Women Want” seemed to have new aspects as speakers representing thirteen of the thirty branches of this International Federation, over an international radio circuit, again announced their aims and dreams for the world. Mme. Pierre Viennot, a member of the French Consultative Assembly which had been set up when France was liberated from her German invaders, speaking from France, and Dr. Lena Madesin Phillips, speaking from New York, were joined by Margaret A. Hickey, president of the Federation in the United States, in this broadcast. Miss Hickey declared that “the days of the old, selfish, strident feminism are over” ; and she invited the women in the audience of the air to consider the special responsibility which women have as “custodians” of the moral and spiritual opposition to future wars. This, too, was an interpretation of women in history and the nature of woman.
As the Global War approached, and especially after it broke over the land, American women seized upon the occasion to review, on the platform and in the press, multiform aspects of women’s relations to war and peace. In the discussions, one line of argument was followed with striking persistence: War is man’s work in a man’s world, now in particular the work of wicked men in foreign countries; women are by nature pacific; war, being always a foe of civilization, tends to deepen the subjection of women to men; since women are pacific by nature, they have a moral obligation to put an end to wars and hence must break into the inner circles of international conferences and lay down the law of peace, even to men who proclaim permanent peace to be the goal of their successive wars. Intermingled with argument on this line were demands that women make all the sacrifices necessary to winning the current war.
In 1940, at the World’s Fair held in New York City, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, addressing a receptive audience, declared that it is woman’s main task to stop war. The goal could not be reached immediately, she admitted, but she expressed confidence that women could abolish war, for the reason that they are devoid of the war spirit. More than this, she maintained that “men have made all the wars in history,” thus in eight words clearing women of all war guilt. With that innocence it appeared logical that women, historic and present, were inclined to peace by their very make-up and were under no necessity to cleanse their hearts and minds of a propensity to violence. Being pacific by nature and devoid of all war guilt, they could and should lead the way to peace.
Though more militant than Mrs. Catt as a leader in the suffrage movement, Alice Paul was no less certain that war sprang from men’s nature and that women were under obligation to put a stop to wars. When, in April, 1941, she was interviewed on her return from Geneva, where she had spent two years directing the organization of an international movement for equal rights for women, she declared, relative to the war in Europe: “Women’s instincts arc constructive and tend to build and create, not to tear down.” The guilt of war she laid wholly on men, saying: “This war was brought about without the women having anything to say or do about it, and now they are the greatest sufferers.”
After the United States became directly involved in the war, American women had opportunities to enter the armed services in a manner and on a scale hitherto unknown to American military practice. They did not follow the example of many European women and take up arm on the front lines, but they went into the war organizations as officers and privates and thus acquired novel experiences on which presumably to base discussions of man-woman issues – past, present, and future.
For example, the president of Wellesley College, Mildred McAfee, took a leave of absence from her academic duties and assumed the burden of heading up a branch of the naval service – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (WAVES). Soon she was awarded the title of Captain, with its appropriate insignia for her uniform. In assuming this task Miss McAfee gave a simple explanation of her action: If the men want us, that is enough for us. Back of that laconic statement may have been broader considerations derived from her study and teaching of the social sciences, but she refrained from entering upon an exposition of them at the moment. And in fact there are some grounds for believing that she had no interest in any phase of the woman movement at the moment.
Later, however, Miss McAfee gave indications of interest in women as such. In May, 1944, when she received an honorary degree at Smith College for her war service, Miss McAfee revealed the new drift of her thought in respect of women in the world and in its work. “In my inaugural remarks at Wellesley eight years ago,” she told her audience at Smith, “I explained carefully that I was not interested in women as women. Education had taught us that people were more important than men or women. I have made several speeches since (or the same speech several times) explaining that the range of individual differences is more significant than group differences between men and women.”
Thus, apparently, previous to undertaking war service, President McAfee had entertained the idea that women, as far as education was concerned, were merely undifferentiated people. They were to be treated, educated, and judged according to certain abstract standards, intellectual and perhaps moral, which were more or less measurable and had no relation to any distinct features of woman’s nature.
But after Miss McAfee had acquired experience in cooperating with the Navy, a deviation had occurred in her mental direction. “And then I joined the Navy ...” she continued in her address at Smith College. “In brief, life in the Navy has taken me out of the cloister, in which a woman was unaware of limitations on her freedom or individuality, and has thrust me into the big world where women are women, and men are men, and each individual in each category emerges into individuality out of all kinds of generalizations about the group to which he or she belongs as man or woman... . The achievement of any woman of responsibility for the large purposes of the nation, the world, will speed the day which I used to think had already dawned, when women and men can be judged first as persons.” In other words, Miss McAfee seemed to feel in 1944 that women were not yet fully persons, as she had once regarded them, but that nevertheless the goal of woman’s ambition was to he adjudged a person in war and peace.
A more complete identification of woman with man and man’s world of war was made by Oveta Culp Hobby, a newspaper woman and politician, head of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, subsequently the Women’s Army Corps (WACS). As director of American women in the Army’s branch of the war services, she could speak with authority on the value of the WACS. This she did in the Woman’s Forum of the magazine, The Woman and the Woman’s Digest, of October, 1943, where she dwelt on the soldierly qualities of the women under her command and the effects of their experience upon them: “From the four corners of the country, from every walk of life, women have joined the ranks of the WAC, to put aside their personal lives for the duration and undertake a life completely different from that which American women had ever known ... . Each of these women is a soldier , in every sense of the word .... In a multitude of different ways the American woman has proved her ability, her courage, and her individuality. All of these qualities are important, but there is one more which all-out war puts upon us, and that is discipline... . Most of all, that person who has responded to discipline will understand how to obtain discipline in others.”
With what conclusion, to what end? “We know, therefore, that our women in the WAC will become better mothers for this [soldier’s] training they are now undergoing. They will be better wives, for their understanding and acceptance of man’s duties.”
On another occasion, later in the same year, Captain Hobby, who had just returned from an inspection of women’s work in the British “armed camp,” in a press interview with American reporters in Washington, reaffirmed her faith in the value of women’s participation in the Global War. She laid weight on the recruiting campaign which she was directing in the United States, the number of WACS already enrolled, the number in prospect, and the new types of training in process. “Three-fifths of the women we are training go to the command,” she said, proud of the fact that women were getting near to the center of war.
inspired by the discipline that British women were receiving, Captain Hobby declared that, if the training of American women could be carried out on the same lines, it would help morale. It would do more: it would give women “a chance to fit into the economic scheme after the war.” Just what that scheme would or might be, she left to the imagination of the reporters and to readers who might examine their written lines. On January 8, 1945, Captain Hobby, then lifted to the rank of Colonel, was given the United States Army’s third highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Medal. She was said to be the first woman to receive it and Secretary of War Stimson, pinning it upon her natty uniform, congratulated Colonel Hobby.
If Colonel Hobby’s words correctly conveyed her thought, hitherto women had been less active in war affairs, but had now emerged from military anonymity. They would be better prepared for wifehood and motherhood as a result of the emergence and the discipline they had received. At the same time they would be better equipped to fit into the economic scheme after arms had been laid down and the tasks of peace taken up again. Apparently a new chapter would open in the history of women and society.
In the opinion of Ada Comstock, president of Radcliffe College from 1923 to 1943, women were gaining more than war experience in the global fray; they were widening their intellectual horizon, gathering new knowledge, making extraordinary demonstrations of power, winning high prestige. Writing on “Women in This War” in the Yale Review in 1942, Dr. Comstock said: “Women have had at least their share in the general growth of knowledge in this country respecting foreign affairs. Lessons in geography are still needed by all of us, but the last twenty years have seen an amazing increase of interest in other parts of the globe as political and economic forces. Through organizations such as the Foreign Policy Association, the Institute of Pacific Relations, the International Federation of University Women, through clubs and classes and the lectures for which the U.S.A. has such an appetite, much information has been diffused. At the moment, this better background of knowledge shows itself chiefly in more reading of papers and more listening to the radio.”
On the basis of such gains apparently women could, with justification, plume themselves on their worldly wisdom and the world’s appreciation of their having it. At all events, Dr. Comstock remarked with evident gratification: “There are, I suppose, only a very few men in the world today who command such audiences as those which listen to the interpretation of public affairs put forth by Mrs. Roosevelt and Madam Chiang Kai-shek; and Dorothy Thompson, Anne O’Hare McCormick, and Vera Micheles Dean write and speak for a public which takes little account of sex.”
College girls also were becoming or doing something new. Dr. Comstock was delighted that “a college girl scales a sixty-foot ladder as easily as she used to tackle the ropes in the gymnasium, and with as little to-do. Women seem to me less self-conscious in their assumption of these new tasks [including war tasks], and men seem readier to count upon their cooperation.”
While upholding the fight against the Axis Powers, Dr. Emily Hickman, professor of history at the New Jersey College for Women, urged women to fan the agitation for a place at the peace table when the war against these powers had ended. “We must get women into the international committees to plan the peace so that war will be prevented!” This, Dr. Hickman said, was a special duty of women, for men were preoccupied with other things: “At this moment most of the businessmen and labor groups in the country are so concerned with the problems of taxation of business, termination of war contracts, and full employment, that they have no time to think of preventing another war in twenty-five years.”
For a large number of the Americans who made a specialty of “foreign affairs,” the Global War was not just another war, a war in the historic style – a struggle of nations for supremacy. It was a war for enduring peace, a sure thing this time, as distinguished from the failure that followed the first world war. Moreover the idea of woman as intrinsically a lover of peace was so often emphasized and repeated that makers of platforms and candidates for President in 1944 could not ignore it in their quest for votes. Franklin D. Roosevelt assured the people that “men and women” of all parties were on the staff planning for a better world; and Thomas Dewey promised that if elected he would employ the ablest men and women to be found in the country at the task of organizing the coming peace. During the political campaign and afterward, women unwilling to rely on the pledges of political parties set about consolidating their forces for the purpose of assuring the establishment of world order and permanent peace at the end of the war.
Mary Heaton Vorse had noted in her Footnote to Folly that women at their international conferences held after the first world war had recited the woes of war, had wept over its tragedies and sufferings, without considering their relations to the making or promotion of war or drastic means that might prevent its recurrence. Now, in the noontime of the Global War, American women, while giving the utmost support to the war and celebrating their services and recognitions, were eagerly preparing “to win the peace.”
With the intention of “making enough of a rumpus” to assure places for qualified women on committees and commissions assigned to postwar world planning, representatives of twelve women’s organizations began in March, 1944, a campaign to attain this end.
On June 14, Mrs. Roosevelt received at the White House delegates of these organizations who had come to confer with other women on the matter of recognition for women in the form of membership on policy-forming agencies concerned with international planning.
On this occasion men from the principal departments of the Federal Government were present as speakers or observers, giving a kind of official Democratic sanction to the affair. Thus “peace-loving women” had a hearing at the political capital of the nation.
Encouraged by the event, women active in the undertaking drafted and circulated a questionnaire designed to secure the naming of women best qualified to have places of power in postwar planning for security and peace. By this process several prominent women, including Anne O’Hare McCormick and Vera Micheles Dean, were presented to the public as equipped to help as thinkers and leaders in creating the new world order and establishing the lasting peace. In line with his declaration of 1944, President Roosevelt chose Virginia Gildersleeve, dean of Barnard College, to serve as a member of the American delegation at the international conference held in San Francisco in April-June, 1945, out of which came the United Nations Charter.
While the circulation of the idea that women had long been the victims of ignorance, subordination or total subjection, but were about to lead the world to order and peace, gained in velocity, especially among the intellectuals and educated classes generally, a pressure came from an unexpected quarter. The directors of All-America Comics, Inc., in 1943, undertook to carry this “message” to the country in a form to exert a “lasting effect upon the minds of those who are now boys and girls” but maturing as a power for shaping the future.
To forward this purpose they engaged the services of Alice Marble, tennis champion in time of peace and physical trainer of women for the service of a society at war, to assist in planning and editing a comic sheet entitled Wonder Woman, woman conceived as a “female Superman.” This effort, the corporation announced, “marks the first time that daring, strength and ingenuity have been featured as womanly qualities.” It admitted that “women still have many problems and have not yet reached their fullest growth and development,” thus intimating that men now have no problems and have reached their fullest growth and development. But vivaciously, Wonder Woman undertook “constructive entertainment for children” with its portrayal of the “female Superman.”
To make more explicit its dominant idea, All-America Comics, Inc., gave prominence to the assertions of the “well-known psychologist,” Dr. William Moulton Marston, printed in the magazine Tomorrow , in February, 1942, under the heading: “Women: Servants of Civilization.” In this article Dr. Marston summarized some of the “leading thoughts” on women that were current at the time. Women had once been ruled by the harem order, but were no longer so governed. “When women eventually decided, sometime in the latter part of the nineteenth century, that the harem idea was a mistake, they began Promptly, though timidly, to emerge. This emergence procedure is still going on. The first world war gave it impetus, the second should go a long way toward completing the female exodus.” Emerging women are the hope of civilization: “If psychological evolution is to climb another step toward human harmony and joy of living, the emotional impetus must be furnished by women, since they have more of what it takes to love.”
Man, on the other hand, is a belligerent creature: “There’s no more reason for not killing humans who oppose you than for sparing the lives of mosquitoes, in the mind of a man whose self-seeking emotions are permitted to run rampant. And the average ‘normal’ male’s personality balance tends definitely in the same direction, according to the emotion tests which I have conducted for several years in my clinic and in private consultations.”
As if to prove the feminine contrast and stamp it indelibly on the minds of young admirers of the male Superman, All-America Comics, Inc., on the cover of the first issue of its magazine, represented the female of the species, dressed in a scant bathing suit, astride a circus horse, riding down Hitler and all his Nazi cohorts of men beside their war machines. Swiftly Hitler was brought to his well-deserved doom and the forces arrayed against him arrived at the grand triumph without more to-do. Such marvelous feats for democracy and civilization woman could achieve when her feeling of inadequacy was extinguished and her potentialities unleashed.
In the future, things will be different from the long past as women come into their own: “The future is woman’s – as quickly as she realizes her present frustration, and her tremendously powerful potentialities ... The important thing is that a vast army of women has begun to move forward into male territory. Eventually they will conquer their own feelings of female inadequacy.” With woman’s feeling of inadequacy cast off and her potentialities released into full action, civilization will advance, for women have the qualities necessary for the triumph of civilization.
“The world needs more love. The world needs peace, security, an aristocracy of altruism, a new set of social values based upon what one individual can do for others and not upon what he can take away and keep for himself. Only world-mothers are psychologically capable of that great, compassionate, selfless love which should inspire the leaders of nations to forget utterly their own political ambitions, their petty hatreds and selfish interests, and give, give to their millions of slow-growing, adult children. When women rule this world they won’t want to [be so mean]; they will consent to be Presidents, or Queens, or self-effacing, anonymous leaders only because they know that it is more fun to give than to receive, and that leadership offers larger opportunities to love and give themselves to others. Women are like that – don’t let them fool you with their petty fears and hesitancies! When the human need signal sounds, women always have delivered – and they always will. That is why they are women. And that is why, when the world is worthy of their leadership of love, women will lead the world.”