MIA: Library: Mary Beard, Woman as a Force in History, 1946

Woman as a Force in History. Mary Beard 1946

Attitudes of Men

IN THE orderly and intelligent discussion of any subject, Cicero said in De Officiis, the terms used should be so plain that all may know and understand what the discussion is about. In the foregoing examples of American women’s assertions on the subject of men and women – everybody’s interest – it is perfectly clear whether they are talking about men or women. But this is not so true so often when men discuss human affairs.

Men who discuss human affairs frequently do so with an ambiguity amounting to double talk or half talk or talk so vague that one cannot be sure in every case whether they are referring to men only or to both men and women. This gives them a peculiar advantage of self-defense if the charge is made that they are not remembering women at all when they speak or write of “man” or “men,” for they can claim that they are using these words in their generic sense. Two recent incidents illustrate this situation and its significance.

In 1944 members at large of the Laboratory of Anthropology at Santa Fe were invited by the editor of its News Letter to give opinions on an objection raised by one member to the customary phrase, “primitive man,” employed by the laboratory in advertising its whole collection of early handicrafts and in describing primitive life. Among the prominent men who accepted the invitation were Frank Lloyd Wright and Dr. A. A. Brill.

Mr. Wright was gay and witty in his reply: “The term Man is used, I believe (as the professor said to his class), ‘as man embracing woman.’ They giggled – and Mary Beard objects – so why not say Mankind and let it go at that?”

Dr. Brill was serious and more elaborate in his reply: “I always considered the term ‘primitive man,’ like other similar expressions, such as ‘man is the measure of all things,’ etc. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for woman (I am inclined to the former), man being in the vanguard of the struggle, was always spoken of in the generic sense as representing both sexes. Also he is – at least on the surface – the more active and aggressive of the two sexes, he receiving more punishment and more honor than his equally important helpmate. The whole problem might be resolved by using the term, ‘Primitive people."’

But neither “mankind” nor “people” is always descriptively accurate, especially in dealing with human work or force when there is a division of labor between the sexes or qualities of masculine and feminine force may differ in essence or expression. Whether the problem of the little three-letter words, man and men, and a combination of man with kind in mankind or the obliteration of both in the six-letter word people is treated lightly or gravely today, the problem is really fundamental for precision in thought and its communication.

What, for instance, is meant precisely when men talk about “men of good will,” as they repeatedly do today in connection with the themes of war and peace? Do they mean men as adult males, with their distinctive qualities? Or do they mean to “embrace” women of good will and treat their wills and goodnesses as the same, as equivalents undifferentiated in fact?

When Mark Twain paid his disrespect to the human race in What Is Man? he made it fairly evident to his readers that he was especially concerned with the male human being. A glance at the title of George A. Dorsey’s Man’s Own Show: Civilization might suggest that civilization is the adult male’s show, but a study of Dorsey’s text discovers that woman had a part in the making and running of the show. What part? Any distinctive part? And does he make it clear all the way through his text? If those are not “sixty-four-dollar” questions for the men and women who are daily, hourly, instructing the public through the press, on the platform, and over the radio, they arc practical questions for members of the public who wish to know what is being talked about in discussions of public affairs. They are questions which every man or woman with the slightest concern for science or truth will want to raise and have answered.

For hundreds of years the use of the word “man” has troubled critical scholars, careful translators, and lawyers. Difficulties occur whenever and wherever it is important for truth-seeking purposes to know what is being talked about and the context gives no intimation whether “man” means just a human being irrespective of sex or means a masculine being and none other. For lawyers in particular the correct use of the term and a precise understanding of its uses may have fateful consequences; innumerable rights of person and property may turn upon the mere meaning of “man” in laws, ordinances, and judicial opinions.

Perhaps one should say that the word “man” has been making confusion in many respects for more than a thousand years. It was certainly used in the Anglo-Saxon language as early as 825 A.D. to mean specifically the human creature in general; but about the same time it was also used to mean an adult male person; while contemporaneously the word “woman” was in use as meaning an adult female human being. And persons who have occasion to study Anglo-Saxon laws and literature, if they care anything at all about exactness, have to be constantly on guard as to whether “man” means a human creature in general or an adult male. Of course if precision is no consideration, then the translation of the word man or mann from Anglo-Saxon into English may simply run riot at the will and pleasure of its repeater.

Additional ambiguities have arisen in connection with the word man, on account of the tendency to identify it with many other terms in common usage. As Charlotte C. Stopes says in The Sphere of “’Man” in Relation to that of “Woman” in the English Constitution: “For centuries ... the word ‘man’ was practically treated as a common noun, like freeholder, resident, taxpayer, merchant, trader, shopkeeper, pauper, prisoner, traitor, criminal, benefactor. In short, ‘man’ was held as equivalent to person or individual, the unit in the collective noun ‘people.’ “

And yet so many uncertainties appeared in the administration of the law in England, as citizens, judges, and administrators wrestled with the terms man and men that Parliament tried in 1850 to clear some of them away by legislation. A law known as Lord Romilly’s or Lord Brougham’s Act provided that “words importing the masculine gender shall always include women, except where otherwise stated.” As a matter of fact, however, conflicts due to uncertainty of meaning did not end, even in England, respecting the use of the word man in statutes and judicial decisions.

Nevertheless, historians, sociologists, literary critics, and other commentators on human affairs have paid little attention to this linguistic problem – a problem of clarity in speech and writing. Yet it involves their judgments on everything human. How does one know whether any writer is using the troublesome words, man and men, generically or with reference to males only, unless the meaning is made plain by the context or a positive statement? The issue can best be defined in the form of questions perhaps. Are adult males and adult females identical in nature? Are they equals, equivalents, interchangeable parts of humanity, so that these words, man and men, may be freely used without explanations and at all times? Are the speakers and writers who use these words willing to justify their usages as self-explanatory? If self-explanatory are these words accurately used in all, many, or any cases?

This is no mere quibbling. Naturally men are deeply interested in affirmations about men with their masculine qualities. Unquestionably men are also deeply interested in women. When are they expressing their interests in themselves or in women? Sometimes they take the public into full confidence in this matter. But much of the time they lay themselves open to the accusation that they have failed to think their way through the linguistic, historical, and sociological difficulty.

This problem of clarity in thought, or the lack of it, looms large in hundreds of thousands of printed pages where the words man and men appear in bewildering profusion, as well as in common and formal speech. The wide and loose circulation of these words is one of the striking features of modern loquacity and even of modem “science.” No lawyer accustomed to seeking precision in terms could possibly translate with confidence the words man, men, person, people, and mankind, which are strewn through and adorn the articles, books, reviews, essays, and addresses of our times. Freedom

of speech allows for large liberties, but speech so free as to be inexact and unintelligible is markedly licentious – and dangerous – when such subjects as human nature, the emotions, education, science, art, democracy, government, society, literary values, history, progress, retrogression, barbarism, and civilization are brought under a discussion intended to be serious and informed.


To come to concrete cases: How is Dr. Karl A. Menninger, the eminent neuro-psychiatrist, discussing this universal interest – man-woman? Can the reader of his works be sure he had woman as well as man in his mind or whether he regarded them as identical, when he chose for the title of one of his books, Man Against Himself? judging by another of his works, The Human Mind, he had in his memory a kind of composite personality, man-woman, with a composite mind. Yet in respect of those two books and a third volume, Love Against Hate, a quandary occurs. The publisher’s report announced two of them as studies of the “creative energy that lies behind man’s achievement in art, in science, and in living together with his fellow man.” And he said of the third: “It is not offered as a cure-all for man’s troubles, but it does advance the argument that the cure lies in man’s essential nature, and that only as we come to understand ourselves in the light of modern psychiatric knowledge can we find our way to happiness in the better world we are seeking to create.”

How, it may be properly asked, did the announcer understand his own words (or her words, if perchance a woman wrote the above lines) ? Do women achieve anything in art and science? Do men live with fellow-men and also with fellow-women? Is the essential nature that is mentioned common to men and women? Or is it the nature of the male alone that is being considered? For psychiatric science itself, the query is mandatory.

Approaching the theme, love against hate, psychologically or psychiatrically, “we” may assume, may “we’ not, that men and women are equally compounded of love and hate? But do we discover that by reading the book? No doubt the theme is pertinent to both sexes in their search for the proposed road to happiness. And since Dr. Menninger had the cooperation of his wife in the composition of this volume, it is possible that the term man was used here only in its generic sense. Yet in various types of leadership along the road to happiness, is it not possible that the two sexes display and represent forces decidedly unequal and differing in quality as well as kind and degree? Or do they? What light is Dr. Menninger shedding on this point?

Take another case as evidence of the linguistic uncertainty – the use of the word, man, in Man the Slave and Master, a biological approach to the potentialities of modern society (1938). Did the author, Mark Graubard, mean man, the male, in this passage: “When the authors of the Declaration of Independence declared that ‘all men are created equal,’ they were not speaking as biologists but as social legislators"? Or did Dr. Graubard mean to say that the authors of that document were putting women with men and declaring them equals? Dr. Graubard objects to the confusion that exists in the meaning of equality, especially as used by Fascists who make it biological only or primarily. But was he himself reckless or cautious about biological notions of equality when he listed Selma Lagerlöf among “men of genius"?

In respect of primitives, Dr. Graubard wrote: “Essentially, then, the behavior of man in primitive society was not unlike his behavior today. His biological and emotional reactions were the same. The force of conditioning was the same. His mind, like the mind of modern man, was the product of habits, conditioned emotions, responses, and beliefs.” Are primitive women as well as men included in this statement? If so, were primitive men and women so nearly alike that they may be treated as one? If so treated is the word “man” sufficient? Might not “woman” do just as well?

In some places in his book and in some ways Dr. Graubard displays a definite awareness of woman as a distinctive creature. For instance he declares: “Man’s earliest records indicate that the male of the species tended to adhere to the female in one manner or another to form a family in the sense commonly understood in our own civilization, namely, a closely knit economic and social group of one or more men, one or more women, and their offspring.” And “women may perform agricultural tasks.” He even notes that Solon placed a penalty on the sale of women for slavery. But what in many cases is he really talking about?

As another illustration of the way in which the term man is used indefinitely, in such a manner as to leave the existence of woman uncertain, we may take the Primer for Tomorrow by Christian Gauss, dean at Princeton University, published in 1934. Presumably Dr. Gauss is interested in the nature and future of all society. His book opens with comments on “The Nature of Civilization,” in the course of which he criticizes Spengler’s assumption that the “men” of our time are the first men to try to “grasp the nature and significance of this strictly human world about them... . As a matter of fact, from the beginning of human history no problem has interested man more deeply.”

An elaboration of this long concern of man follows: “This first stage in which the mythologies are created may be said to be efforts on the part of man to explain and, if possible, to justify himself to his gods. These gods have absolute power and they themselves need no justification; man fears but does not argue with them. Adam does not argue with Jehovah; Adam accepts his prohibitions without question and then quite humanly attempts to explain and excuse his transgression. At a somewhat later stage of human development, illustrated by historians like Herodotus or Livy or Bossuet, or by poets like Virgil and Milton, man seeks ‘to assert eternal Providence’ and ‘to justify the ways of God to man.’”

The impression seems warranted that Dean Gauss has man the male in mind. The impression is strengthened as the reader goes through the remaining pages. Consider this statement: “According to Spengler the history of civilization is the record of the struggle of man against his environment, against nature, in which nature always wins. Even if we admit with Spengler, as we must, that many civilizations have died in the past, must we admit that the challenge of nature will forever defeat the spirit of man?” Since Spengler separated men and women into distinct categories, making women history itself and man its maker, is the reader not justified in assuming that Dean Gauss presumably uses the Spenglerian distinction here?

But this Primer is not always sternly masculine in its conceptions. In another place the author says: “It is, of course, clear that one man alone cannot create an enduring civilization. There must be men, women and children, continuing and cooperating generations, if man’s achievement is to endure.” This does seem definite in the sense that women must cooperate with men.

But what follows is not so obvious: “Man’s struggle is not only against nature, but in a sense, it is against other men as well. To bring about the conditions under which his inventions and way of life can be perpetuated, man the experimenter is forced to create not only implements and tools, materialistic advantages, but he must create also ways of life, institutions, governments, religions, laws, of such a sort that the men of his group, of his own culture, will work and live together in harmony and use these implements and tools in the common interest and not against each other. For in this second case, his life must degenerate again into a meaningless struggle not against nature, but against his own kind. We must differentiate clearly between those implements, those material tools which man invents, and what we may call the spirit of his civilization.”


If males who write on anthropology, sociology, mentality, love and hate, psychology, philosophy, and civilization may seem at times to take refuge with an abstract being as neither male nor female and thus appear “sound” to women who shrink from remembrance of women, what is to be said of historians? In the events they recite, human beings are the actors. Inevitably they deal with personalities and in their selection of historic events and actors, they necessarily reveal their attitudes on women as well as on men. Their very silences respecting women, no less than their accounts of women when they mention women, are evidences of the ways they interpret the past – the prologue to the present and the future.

How far then do men who write history enforce or deny the thesis maintained by living women that women were a subject sex throughout the long ages of the past? Or do they consider women something even less important than subjects of men – exactly nothing?

Naturally in order to find answers research would have to be carried very widely into the works of professional historians – an immense fact – finding and statistical expedition. But clues to the values of such research may be obtained by the examinations of general works on history which have high recognition in circles of educators and wide currency in other circles.

For example, “The American History Series,” really accorded that standing, consists of five volumes long used as authoritative in American colleges and universities. One of these volumes on The Middle Period 1817-1858, was written by Professor John W. Burgess. In all its five hundred pages, only rare references are made to women, obviously, unmistakably, women. One cites a Virginia statute imposing heavy penalties on white women who cohabited with negro slaves. Mary Brown, who owned a slave that ran away, is mentioned in a passage on the fugitive slave law, and Ellen Crafts, a fugitive slave herself, is cited in connection with the rumor that she was concealed by “some of the most high-toned people” of Boston, presumably including some woman or women. But Harriet Beecher Stowe is not in the index and so was apparently not in the history of the middle period. Nor were other women.

To be sure, any man has a right to confine his attention entirely to the doings of men in political history if he Iets his purpose be known in the title of his book or of the series in which it appears. But the series to which this volume by Professor Burgess belongs is called history, and on the least possible reckoning women were more than incidental to men’s history in the United States from 1817 to 1858, even to their political history. And failure to admit it is an attitude with respect to women.

“Associated scholars,” all men, wrote the volumes in another distinguished group, entitled “The American Nation Series.” One of these volumes on The Federalist System is fairly representative. This was written by John Spencer Bassett who as professor at Smith College taught history to women for about a quarter of a century. In his chapter on “The State of Society” at the end of the eighteenth century, people, inhabitants, Negroes, agriculture, commerce, dancing, inns, fried bacon, and corn bread have their places, but no woman or women; not even matrimony. On a search through other chapters one may find Martha Washington, but she seems to be present merely because she was hostess at a reception. John Adams figures largely but there is no Abigail Adams in the society of his time. Nor is there mention of Mercy Warren whose history of the American Revolution so stirred John Adams’ ire on account of the way she portrayed him that he engaged in a sharp epistolary battle with Mercy, long his close friend. Histories of this character, for all practical purposes of instruction in colleges and other schools for young men and women, add up to the assertion that women had been of no real importance in the making of American history.

Independent volumes, not parts of series, have been written on similar lines. America: The Story of a Free People, by Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager, runs true to form. This volume was composed by two outstanding historians and, the authors explain, was “designed to meet the need for a short narrative history of the American people.” Their preface indicates their conception of the need and the nature of history in America: “The story of America is the story of the impact of an old culture upon a wilderness environment. Americans skipped, as it were, the first six thousand years of history and emerged upon the historical scene bold and mature, for the first settlers were not primitive but civilized men, and they transplanted here a culture centuries old. Yet the New World was never merely an extension of the Old. It was what its first settlers anticipated and its founding fathers planned – something new in history.” The index, it is true, contains references to women in industry and with regard to the suffrage; Jane Addams, Lillian Wald, and one or two other women are listed there; but the contribution of women to the making of American history, even in helping to “settle” the new world, is overlooked by chance or deliberately as of no significance.

Brooks Adams, however, reckoned with the force of women in history. In his first significant work, The Emancipation of Massachusetts, issued in 1887, he paid an extraordinary tribute to Anne Hutchinson whose stand for religious liberty in the early seventeenth century led to her banishment from that colony. “The intrepid woman,” said Brooks Adams, “defended her cause with a skill and courage which even now, after two hundred and fifty years, kindles the heart with admiration... . She shattered the case of the government in a style worthy of a leader of the bar.”

Later, in his major historical work, The Law of Civilization and Decay ( 189 5 ), he represented the female of the species as powerful in sustaining society during the early and rude stages of civilization but as promoting physical and moral decay in the stages of social decline. In this volume woman was, in his judgment, a dynamic person for weal or woe. Finally, in The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma, published not long before his death, Brooks Adams asserted that woman had no intellectual power and “only the importance of a degraded boy.”

About thirty years after Brooks Adams’ Law of Civilization and Decay appeared, a translation of Oswald Spengler’s Untergang des Abendlandes was published in the United States under the title The Decline of the West. Spengler was not a historian but a mathematician; yet he felt able to reduce universal history to a kind of law that was in some respects akin to Adams’ theory of cycles in history – from barbarism to and through civilization and round and round. Published amid the disillusionment and confusion that followed the first world war, Spengler’s work had a great influence on American writing and thinking about the past, present, and future of all humanity. In a single passage Spengler declared that woman is history and that man makes history. The existence of woman in history was thus recognized, but she was represented as a mere sustaining and conserving force in history. While Spengler took that much account of woman in The Decline, he rubbed her out perhaps in his Man and Technics (1932) where he said: “Man is a beast of prey... . The animal of prey is the highest form of mobile life... . It imparts a high dignity to man, as a type, that he is a beast of prey.” Or did Spengler here exclude woman?

The type of historical writing that in effect represents women as members of an inarticulate and subject sex in the long evolution of society up to the modern age is fairly well exemplified in Dr. Ernest L. Groves’ The American Woman offered in 1944 as a text for the education of women. Dr. Groves is a sociologist, not a historian, but in this volume he devotes many pages to the history of woman’s status through the ages. In those pages he pictures the historic life of woman as one of general subordination to man, if with rare exceptions and slight qualifications. The subtitle of the book, “the feminine side of a masculine civilization,” is a digest of the author’s opinion that civilization had been man’s civilization at least until recent years in America, though the argument of the text is to the effect that woman should at last enter into the full enjoyment of man’s civilization. Wishing women well, Dr. Groves endorses the feminist proposal for an equal rights amendment to the Federal Constitution. Still, his historical verdict stands as written: The starting point for the discussion of the modern American woman is the subjection of women through the long ages of the past.

With the slow and halting development, in late years, of what is styled “social history,” male scholars, and occasionally a female scholar, have gradually manifested more consciousness that women had been in history and had done something, whatever it was, in the making of history. As to the state of things before this movement for the writing of social history was well launched, Arthur Meier Schlesinger, one of the pioneers in it, appropriately commented in his New Viewpoints in American History (1922) : “An examination of the standard histories of the United States and of the history textbooks in use in our schools raises the pertinent question whether women have ever made a contribution to American national progress that is worthy of record. If the silence of the historians is taken to mean anything, it would appear that one-half of our population have been negligible factors in our country’s history.”

Although the social historians who recognized that women had been in history brought about some shift in the emphasis on manmade history, they gave many signs that they were puzzled in trying to deal with women. Many of them worked on as before, “bringing in” women here and there as if they were not really an integral part of all history; but none of them made any serious contributions to the bibliography, documentation, theory, and practice of the subject of women in history. In fact some of the social historians paid so much attention to the struggle of women for the suffrage and for “equal rights,” that they helped to confirm or freeze the view that prior to the rise of feminism in the nineteenth century women had been nothing, or next to nothing, in the long course of previous history – indeed, enslaved or partly enslaved to man in a man’s world or a “man’s civilization.” Hence despite the useful labors of the social historians and some monographs on specific phases of ideas and activities in history, the conventional view of women as negligible or nothing or helplessly subject to men in the long past continued largely to direct research, thinking, and writing about American history.

At all events Professor Schlesinger’s appeal of 1922 for some consideration of women’s contributions to the making of history effected no immediate revolution in the thinking of his gild. How completely it could be ignored was illustrated in 1940, nearly twenty years later, in The Course of American Democratic Thought: An Intellectual History since 1815, by Ralph H. Gabriel. This work deals with thought of or about democracy. It covers the period which witnessed the rise and growth of an invincible movement for women’s rights, inspired by democratic theories, the tremendous agitation of thought that accompanied the movement, drastic modifications of the common law by legislation and equity, and the struggle that in the fullness of time culminated in the national enfranchisement of women. It treats of an age in which thousands of articles, pamphlets, and books on various aspects of democracy, law, and justice were written by women. Yet in the bibliography attached to Professor Gabriel’s text no work by a woman is cited. For him, it would appear, the huge six-volume work on the History of Woman Suffrage, containing many “thoughts” about democracy, or at least what may be regarded as a phase of it, had no pertinence whatsoever.

This is not to say that Professor Gabriel entirely overlooked the existence of women in his intellectual history after 1815. The names of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Baker Eddy, Lydia Pinkham, Sophia Ripley, Sarah Eleanor Royce, Carry Rand, and Mrs. E. D. Rand, for instance, appear in the index. Note is taken that Margaret Fuller and Sophia Ripley conferred with Emerson about Brook Farm, though what they said to him or he said to them on the subject is not revealed. If women were doing any thinking in the period, it is difficult to find out from this treatise what it was like. “Equalitarianism” is treated in the text as if it were mainly or wholly a man’s affair. Even the women’s “Declaration of Sentiments” at Seneca Falls in 1848 – a manifesto of a movement which developed into a conquering force – escaped Professor Gabriel’s attention or was discarded by him as deserving not even a page or two in a modern work on democracy.

If one passes from obvious matters relative to women’s share in thought about democracy, which lie on the very surface of the documents for the age, to more recondite issues of thought, one discovers that Professor Gabriel exhibits the peculiar nature of his own thought about democratic thought. There he quotes Joseph Story on the role of equity in jurisprudence. There he says that “the common law was always changing, expanding to meet human needs,” and that out of the mid-nineteenth century concept of fundamental law “came ultimately the law which governed the lives of men.”

Professor Gabriel devotes no paragraphs to showing that Story had demonstrated in his great work on equity jurisprudence how equity played havoc with whole branches of the common law, especially those parts which dealt with the rights of men and women in their varied legal relations. In other words, he gives no hint that Story’s important historic treatise showed how the advance of thought in the democratic age was rewriting in the name of equity whole chapters of jurisprudence relative to the rights of women. But Professor Gabriel’s book stands as written; as far as democratic thought is concerned, women scarcely exist; they are negligible, if not exactly nothing.


We come to political scientists and, lest it be thought that they are dragged into a matter beyond their proper sphere, their ancient mentors, Plato and Aristotle, need recalling. Like great Greek legislators, those immortal writers on society and the state, on politics and ethics, placed the Family at the very center of their political science. Plato could not solve the problem of his ideal society and state without settling the question of the Family and woman’s social role. Knowing the power of the Family with its interests and ambitions, economic and political, he proposed to abolish it at least for men and women who, by their skills and talents, would come to the top of society and state as guardians. Appreciating the mental and moral force of women, Plato gave them equal position with men in the function of guarding the state.

To Aristotle a political science without attention to the Family would have been a shadowy abstraction only. He made the Family a basic element of the state and examined its nature before he erected his superstructure (Book 1). He could not examine the Family and neglect to consider woman. Though it was hard for either man to regard woman as quite up to his stature mentally, nevertheless both immortal Greeks took cognizance of woman in the enormously influential works they composed on society and the state.

It has been a freakish aspect of American political science which both as theory and descriptive thinking tends either to abstraction or to thought of the male only as a factor in the state. With the rise of individualism and democracy,, even society customarily drops out of this political science. Nearly all the textbooks on government, used for the instruction of young men and women in American colleges, leave the Family out of account; and beyond reporting that women now have the vote in the United States, they pay little or no attention to what women have done with the vote, to their political agitations, to their ideas of government, and their work in government as administrators, and judges.

One of the very best treatises on party organization and practices, by a witty and discerning scholar whose wife, Luella Gettys, had previously written an excellent work on The Law of Citizenship in the United States, bears the impress of the current tendency: V. 0. Key’s Politics, Parties, and Pressure Groups (1942). This volume contains references to woman suffrage and to women’s voting habits, but the long chapter on national conventions gives no idea of the number and activities of women at these great party assemblies. Yet women had been represented by delegates since 1892; at the Republican convention of 1940 there were 99 women delegates and 264 women alternates; and at the Democratic convention of that year there were 208 women delegates and 347 women alternates.

The task of inquiring into women’s place in politics was left almost exclusively to women themselves. The first systematic analysis of this subject was made in 1933 by Sophonisba Breckinridge and published in her volume, Women in the Twentieth Century. It was two women, Marguerite J. Fisher and Betty Whitehead, who wrote for The American Political Science Review, of October, 1944, a brief sketch of women’s participation in conventions from 1892 to 1914. The authors made no effort to “measure” the influence of women at those assemblies or to describe at length their political acumen and activities; but at a time when practical politicians, high and low, were all wrought up by the evident power of voting women, the publication of the article in this journal showed that political scientists were becoming interested in doing something about “the data” of women in politics.


More than historians and political scientists as a rule, psychologists and sociologists acknowledge the existence of woman, and inquire extensively into her nature, activities, and force or the absence of it in social development. Psychologists frequently proceed on the assumption that everybody, including women, has a mind and a will of some kind. It is true that some of them appear to be preoccupied with the mind of man, an adult male; but even these specialists, often, if not always, seem to be using the term man generically. At all events women as such receive much consideration in circles of psychologists, individually and collectively. For example, at its ninth spring meeting, in 1944, the Eastern Branch of the American Psychological Association held sessions on the attitudes of men and women toward women.

The meeting lasted for two days and nearly one thousand persons were reported as attending its sessions. The main discussion revolved around the results of a questionnaire submitted to an equal number of men and women and presented to this meeting by Philip M. Kitay of Teachers College, Columbia University. By means of this survey designed to explore opinions of men and women about women, the conclusion was reached by its promoters that both sexes were in “a remarkable agreement in favor of equal social rights for both sexes and a wide disagreement in evaluating the emotional stability and originality of women.” Dr. Kitay said the questionnaire indicated that “the present-day attitudes toward women have been largely made by men. Since many accept prevailing opinions as facts, women as a rule fall into the same opinions as men, and therefore see themselves through male eyes.”

In the discussion which followed a statement of the survey’s findings, men and women participated and, according to newspaper accounts, “seven out of every ten men, and an equal proportion of women, believed that men were less influenced by emotion than women in their judgments. To the statement that ‘women are more interested in trivial things of life than men,’ 91.7 per cent of the men gave their assent, and 91.1 per cent of the women.”

The question of extra-marital freedom was raised and on this issue there was also general agreement among the men and the women; it is “more shameful for a married woman to have extramarital sexual relations than for a married man.” Yet the men more than the women approved greater sexual freedom for women. As large a proportion as 85 per cent of the men thought that men are more emotionally stable than women but only 44.1 per cent of the women accepted this belief. With respect to women’s creative ability, 92.9 per cent of the women claimed that women possess it, while less than half of the men, 48.6 per cent, conceded it.

Dr. Kitay, a teacher of educational psychology, maintained that if men swayed women’s opinions on women the men had self. interested motives – the desire to keep women from competing with men. “Thus the belief was strongly supported by men,” he said, “that women were frail and delicate creatures who could not do any of the world’s work that involved strain.”

The discovery or assumption that women differ from men governed discussions of the subject by members of the Psychological Association which assembled at Palo Alto a few years ago, and much importance was attached to glandular differentiations.

“What is the psychological difference between a boy and a girl?” was the question on which they attempted to focus their remarks. The question had been before members of the association for meditation in advance of this meeting and those who attended it were prepared to give their answers. Indeed a report, framed by two men and one woman of Stanford University, was ready for the guidance of the discussion. Its burden was that the “original constitutional equipment” of girls and boys differs. And in women, it asserted, the whole glandular system is “more precarious” than in men. But mental balance is “superior in the male.” The whys and wherefores of the divergence in mental balance were “probably” traceable to the basic physical differences, some speakers averred. As the discussion was reported in the press, its upshot was the consensus that “women in general have made no relative progress against mental irregularities since they began throwing off conventional restraints at high speed.” just when women began to do that, the press did not report as a finding disclosed at this meeting of psychologists.

For more than fifty years American sociologists drew heavily upon Herbert Spencer’s Principles of Sociology, the first volume of which was formally published in 1876. From his work they borrowed both methods and guiding ideas. Indeed it may be truly said that Spencer was more favorably received in the United States than in England; at all events Americans took the trouble to raise money for the purpose of enabling him to carry on his monumental enterprise. At Yale University, William Graham Sumner labored for about forty years in the spirit of Spencer. Indeed many of Spencer’s doctrines became so deeply embedded in American sociology that they are still revered as axioms of that “science.”

Spencer recognized the fact that the man-woman relationship is at the very center of sociological interest and devoted Part III of his first volume to “Domestic Institutions.” At the opening of this part, he laid down an imperative: “As full understanding of the social relations cannot be gained without studying their genesis, so neither can full understanding of the domestic relations; and fully to understand the genesis of the domestic relations, we must go further back than the history of man [human being] carries us.” proof: “Of every species it is undeniable that individuals which die must be replaced by new individuals, or the species as a whole must die.” Hence it would seem axiomatic that domestic relations, if not woman as such, must be noted by sociologists and the noting must be more than casual or a display of gallantry.

Either from his own inquiries or from other sources, perhaps John Stuart Mill’s Subjection of Women, published in 1869, Spencer derived the conclusion that “the status of women” in primitive times was one of servitude and degradation “in which they were habitually stolen, bought and sold, made beasts of burden, inherited as property, and killed at will.” There were exceptions to this rule, Spencer realized: among some primitive people, women were rulers and the system of descent was in the female line; but these he treated as “anomalies” to be “noticed” in passing. “Numerous examples, already cited, show that at first women were regarded by men simply as property, and continued to be so regarded through several later stages.” Then he added, as if to clinch the truth of the generalization, a citation from a Chippewayan chief: “Women were made for labor; one of them can carry, or haul, as much as two men can do. They also pitch our tents, make and mend our clothing, keep us warm at night; and, in fact, there is no such thing as travelling any considerable distance, in this country, without their assistance.”

Unlike John Stuart Mill, however, Spencer did not hold that woman continued to be in this or any state of subjection all the way up to the middle of the nineteenth century. On the contrary there had been advancement: “Perhaps in no way is the moral progress of mankind more clearly shown, than by contrasting the position of women among savages with their position among the most advanced of the civilized.” Indeed, according to Spencer’s view, things had gone too far by 1876. From an extreme of subjection “we pass to the stage America shows us’ in which a lady wanting a seat stares at a gentleman occupying one until he surrenders it,

and then takes it without thanking him; we may infer that the rhythm traceable throughout all changes has carried this to an extreme from which there will be a recoil.”

Although A. G. Keller, who succeeded Professor Sumner at Yale, worked at the “science of society” in the spirit of Spencer and Sumner, he was no slavish follower of those elders. In his volume, Man’s Rough Road (1932), Keller rejected the sweeping doctrine of woman’s historic subjection. He ridiculed the word “status,” as meaning nothing definite, and declared that “the broadest preliminary generalization about woman’s rights is that when it was expedient for society that she should have them, she got them, without or despite agitation.” He also maintained that woman’s “actual power” had “from the outset furnished a glaring contrast” to the legal theory of her “nonentity.” Moreover under the head of “Propagation,” Keller devoted several chapters to marriage, status, family, and the usual sociological staples.

But in the main body of his text, in which he deals with all those vital human affairs that are not directly connected with the family and propagation, Keller usually omits woman from his reckoning, unless she is to be included with man whenever he is telling about the extraordinary things that “man” has done, in agriculture, industry, invention, government, religion, and so forth. In this large domain of human life and labor, as Keller speaks of it, “man” has been the adjuster. At the beginning “man must tackle the food question ... . In studying mankind’s experience, we start from Man and Land ... . Men who have associated and organized themselves have survived... . Men cannot be indifferent to competition when they want the same things ... . All men and all life conditions met by them are much alike ... . Man, set down in the earthly environment, confronts a compelling truth: that the first task of life is to live... . The tiller stays by one piece of improved land... . He wants it also for his children... . It is a basic fact that men start with nothing... . Men cannot eat unless labor is done... . Their labor turns out to be by no means the curse that some writers, ancient and modem, have misnamed it.”

Yet Keller occasionally checks himself and feels moved to mention women specifically. Indeed it is difficult to imagine how he could have missed them in the vast collection of anthropological materials assembled by his master, William Graham Sumner, which he had sifted and published in four volumes. After seeming to indicate that man had done about everything in starting civilization, Keller stops to declare: “A count of the most frequently mentioned sex-occupations of about a hundred representative tribes yields the following. Men are almost the sole makers of instruments of war or the chase ... which was to be expected, as they are the fighters and hunters. Women are found to be the chief carriers, grain grinders, and ‘gatherers’; they get water, make pottery, do housework, trade, prepare hides, spin, gather wood, and attend to the fire ... while the tasks calling for concentration of energy, or inventiveness, or special skill, or, above all, organizing power, fall to the men.” Men also help women at tasks which call for “greater strength.” Folded within these judgments of women is a curious idea of skills.

The whole course of mankind from primitive times to our own age was covered by George A. Dorsey, whose specialty was anthropology, a wide traveler and observer of peoples, in a book of 958 pages of text, Mans Own Show: Civilization. Like Keller, Dorsey perhaps subsumes woman under the word man, and thus perhaps has her doing about everything that man does, good and bad, from the outset to the present day. Yet in dealing with “man’s” doings in his great show Dorsey, like Keller, occasionally refers to woman as if she had characteristics of her own and made specific contributions to the show. At one point Dorsey informs us: “When Cave-man left his retreats in deep rock caverns and took to a vegetable diet in the fertile valleys, he soon became a good farmer.” About twenty pages later, he has another idea on the subject of man and his agriculture: “Of the two greatest factors in civilization – agriculture and language – woman contributed at least fifty per cent of one and probably ninety-five per cent of the other.”

As to woman’s historic subjection throughout the ages, Dorsey finds himself unable to accept it, after having devoted a lifetime to the study of human societies in nearly every quarter of the globe. He declares that “woman’s status bears no necessary relation to the height or state of civilization. The famous code of Hammurabi showed not only a high order of society but a high status of woman, and such recognition of her rights as a human being as are hardly equalled on earth today.”

But he adopted the subjection theory as applicable to a long part of English history: “English law at the time of Blackstone practically denied woman’s existence as a personality after marriage. She had almost no rights at all. From the time of the Norman Conquest until fairly recently, the English wife was her husband’s liege subject ... . Her only redress for his maltreatment was a church court ... . And as for ethics, where in all the ‘savage’ world can we find a standard low enough to tolerate husbands who automatically became possessed of their wife’s property on marriage and could carry off her belongings, leaving her to fend for herself and her children ... ?”


If sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists had much difficulty in dealing with woman – her nature, force, and work in history – the orthodox economists were, by their own definitions, relieved of such trouble. After all, they did not claim to be treating of human beings exactly as they were or are; they carried on their intellectual operations with a being of their own creation: the economic man. Insofar as woman had been or was an economic being she came naturally into the science of economics as an economic man. Furthermore, economists, especially those of the classical tradition, were not concerned with history nor with the family nor with “propagation” as were the sociologists. They were, or claimed to be, describing a system which is natural and timeless – unless disturbed by errant factors – and hence involves no moral questions of reform, save possibly to keep the “natural” system of economy intact.

With communists, however, who have utilized history, economics, and sociology for purposes of attracting women as well as men to their movement, woman has been a creature with whom to reckon. In his elementary treatise designed to make communist doctrines clear to American readers, What Is Communism? (1936), Earl Browder devotes several pages to the family and woman. He does not expound the simple thesis of August Bebel, that women through the ages have been members of a subject sex, but he does maintain that “the unequal status of women in the family ... characterizes capitalist society.” How is woman to be emancipated? “Socialism, as the first stage leading toward Communism, places among the first items of its program, the complete liberation of women from all inequality. Not only does it give women unconditional equality with men, but it provides guarantees for maintaining that equality, by means of special protection for motherhood by the State, and by special regulations of the conditions of women’s work. Equality for women is being realized for the first time in history in the Soviet Union, the land of socialism. This is substantiated, not merely by the word of Communists, but by every honest bourgeois authority who has examined the situation of women in the Soviet Union at first hand. We will cite, from a multitude of authoritative books, one only, Women in Soviet Russia by Fannina Halle, an Austrian writer whose large book was the fruit of more than a year of study in various parts of the Soviet Union... . We see the subjection. of women as the distortion and corruption of the family. We see the family of the future based upon the complete equality of men and women.”

Workers in the natural sciences also enter the forum with their pronouncements on man and woman. For example, at a large gathering of men belonging to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Cambridge, Massachusetts, during a lull between two world wars, William Wheeler, professor of economic entomology at Harvard University, assured his auditors that man is the real instigator of progress. “Throughout the ages,” said this profound student of ants and bees, “the aggressiveness, curiosity, unstable intelligence, contentiousness, and other anti-social tendencies which the man inherited from his anthropoidal ancestors have kept society in a constant turmoil... . The restlessly questing intellect, driven by the dominant impulses of the mammalian male, furnishes the necessary stimulus to progress in human societies. Feminine societies arc indeed harmonious, but stationary and incapable of further development. If women ran society, as among such insects as the ants, bees and the wasps, the men merely would be tolerated as necessary for reproduction. The important difference (between insects and man) lies, I believe, in what I call the ‘problem of the male,’ which has been successfully solved by the social insects but not by human societies.”


In that vast domain of writings and speaking known as general literature or polite letters, including both creative and critical works, the images of woman drawn by men are so varied as almost to defy classification. There the whole gamut of men’s emotions, from love and admiration to neglect, hate, and contempt, is run; and it is often difficult to discover whether the portraits of woman are intended to be evaluated by standards of cleverness or by accepted evidences of truth. But whether such views of woman created by men are sampled at random or examined wholesale in any huge collection of books and reviews, one distinct type of image appears with insistent regularity. It is the image of woman as not much of anything measured by man’s standards of intellectual excellence.

For example, in the symposium called Civilization in the United States ( 1922), the editor, Harold Stearns, a critic eminent in literary circles, ascribed “the poverty of intellectual things” in America largely, if not entirely, to feminine influences. Women, he said, did not or could not take part effectively in the great game of pursuing high and intricate truth for its own sake, in the disinterested manner of man. On the contrary women are too practical and do not concern themselves with philosophy – that great aggregation of conflicting systems which seem to cancel one another. No, the intellectual life of American women “turns out on examination” by Mr. Stearns, to be “not an intellectual life at all, but sociological activity... . What women usually understand by the intellectual life is the application of modern scientific methods to a sort of enlarged and subtler course in domestic science.” Rating the philosophy of John Dewey as inferior to absolute systems of metaphysics, Steams then contends that the popularity of pragmatic philosophy was made possible “Precisely because the intellectual atmosphere has been surcharged with this feminized utilitarianism.” In this respect America was a failure and Europe a success, viewed from the heights of 1922, and women had to bear the brunt of responsibility for the tragedy in the United States.

In the literary uprising against the genteel tradition supposed to mark “America’s coming of age,” or achievement of intellectual maturity, novelists and critics were frequently inclined to view it, in part at least, as a revolt against woman representing softness and futility, as a rebellion against “effeminacy” and, in part, as a recovery of man, the male whose virility and values were “self-evident,” like the truths set forth in the Declaration of Independence. In fact the “movement” was more complex, but a reaction against the feminine principle was a striking aspect of the hostility to the genteel displayed by such writers as Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, and Frank Norris. The animus of the tendency was almost perfectly revealed in the intellectual and moral adventures of James Lane Allen, as related by Grant C. Knight in his James Lane Allen and the Genteel Tradition, published in 1935.

According to his reviewer, Allen, a “supersensitive, hypochondriacal, lonely man,” described his own characteristics as “Refinement, Delicacy, and Grace.” He aspired to be the Columbus of Southern literature, and did not refinement, delicacy, and grace form the very essence of the Southern spirit? At the beginning of his literary career, in the Victorian age, Allen explored the “feminine principle” and treated it as if it were the source and substance of the refined tradition. But in time Allen shifted his course from gentility to virility, somewhat in the vogue of Thomas Hardy in England and writers of the “realistic” school in America.

As to the “cause” of this shift literary critics have indulged in considerable speculation. Professor Knight ascribed the change to the demands made by Allen’s generation on the writers of fiction. This conception of “the cause” was supported by the critic, John Cournos, in the statement: “In short Allen cannot be treated as an isolated phenomenon. He is, as his biographer demonstrates, a representative expression of the spirit of his place and time, to which it is the duty of the critic to relate him.” In his final judgment Cournos declared: “On the whole, Allen emerges a bigger man than perhaps his biographer originally intended he should. The genteel epoch, however, stands convicted of making James Lane Allen a lesser man than he might have been.”

Considered in a larger perspective, the genteel tradition belonged to the history of the middle class rather than the history of woman as a feminine being. Indeed this fact was often recognized by writers of the transition period. Engaged in the civilian occupation of producing and distributing goods, members of that class differed in “virility” from warriors on horseback. Only on the theory that women were basically responsible for the rise of this powerful class could its triumph for a time be correctly ascribed to the force of the feminine principle in history. In any event, no small part of the blame for gentility was laid on effeminacy and it was assumed that masculine force was its own reward and justification.

In the literary circles ruled by the doctrines of Sigmund Freud, fiction, biography, literary criticism, and essays in general were long dominated by an interpretation of human nature and human history that in sum and substance reduced woman to a servant of man’s biological propensities, usually suffering from neuroses besides. When a mountain of examples from literary appraisals of woman in this vogue is accumulated and sifted, the results add up to the dogma that woman is sex, civilization is a disease, and American civilization, to use Freud’s own words, is “an abortion.” Although the cult entered into a steep decline before Freud’s death, it exerted a wide and powerful sway over American literature for about a quarter of a century and echoes of its teachings have by no means died away.

How lightly women are frequently portrayed by men of letters is well exemplified in Van Wyck Brooks’ work, The World of Washington Irving, published in 1944. Mr. Brooks has been widely regarded as one of the most distinguished literary critics in the United States. Certainly he does not write without spending laborious days in research. His publishers inform the reader by the jacket of this volume that he “has won every award possible for an American writer to receive,” including the Pulitzer Prize. They also say: “No pedantic historian, Mr. Brooks conceives literary history as the faithful reflection of the life, thought, and social conditions of the times... . This technique is particularly rewarding in Mr. Brooks’ penetrating analysis of Washington Irving’s world – a period in which American writers first became conscious of their heritage, and in which the Jeffersonian revolution created an intellectual atmosphere that was distinctively and forever American.”

This volume, which follows his works on New England, covers the rest of the country during the period from about 1800 to the early forties, and has but one chapter on New England. In its 483 packed pages, the existence of women in the intellectual and social life of America during about fifty momentous years, save in a very few cases, is recognized only casually, and then usually in no significant relation to the times.

The index contains five references to Abigail Adams, author of the invaluable letters on America and England in the Revolutionary age. It seems that her coachman once lost his way while driving from Baltimore to Washington. During her first days in the White House, the family wash had to be hung up in the audience room. There are two brief quotations in footnotes from her letters: one on the novelist Richardson and another on Canterbury, England. The fifth reference is to the fact that Abigail called Patience Wright “Queen of the Sluts.’’

Mercy Warren receives one gesture in less than a line cited in the index. Reference is made to “the drawing room pieces of Mercy Warren” as among the best plays of the Revolutionary era. So much for the woman who produced two of the most patriotic plays in behalf of the American cause against the Tories and then wrote a trenchant history of the American Revolution, published in 1805.

If it be said that Mr. Brooks is not here especially concerned with New England, attention may then be shifted to the Middle States and the West. Was not Lucretia Mott active in this period, speaking and writing on slavery, the rights of women, the problems of labor, the spirit necessary to sustain civilization? She is not in the index. What about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and all the other women who were to issue in 1848 at Seneca Falls a startling manifesto on the rights of women? Why should Emma Willard be singled out for a brief mention in connection with education in Greece and then given a mere footnote “as the first of all the pioneers of the higher education of women in the United States"?

Like Emma Willard, Frances Wright gets a footnote in Mr. Brooks’ pages on “life, thought, and social conditions of the times.” He quotes a few lines from Frances on the American farmer’s love for the soil he tills. By what criterion of judgment does he fail to give at least a page or two to a woman who wrote, spoke, and agitated on religion, labor, education, marriage and divorce, law reform, slavery, and indeed almost every phase of intellectual and social life? She was highly esteemed by Lafayette, worked at Robert Owen’s socialist colony in Indiana, led the movement for free thought in New York, aided in the launching of the labor movement, and discussed the current questions of economics and politics in newspapers and on the platform. Frances Wright was active and influential in Irving’s world but her work and spirit find no appreciative pages in Mr. Brooks’ volume on that subject.

It may be contended that the woman movement was young in the period from 1800 to the early forties and that only a feminine bias could insist on giving extended recognition to women in this account of “the life, thought, and social conditions” of that age. But thousands of articles, pamphlets, and books by women and about women of the period bear witness to the intensity of a great democratic dispute. Besides, we have some testimony from one of the most distinguished thinkers of the nineteenth century, Alexis de Tocqueville, an observer from France. Tocqueville visited Washington Irving’s world, traveled East, West, North, and South, saw the country with his own eyes, talked with all sorts and conditions of people, read widely in American documentation, and wrote Democracy in America, the first part of which was published in 1835 and the second in 1840.

Tocqueville had barely arrived in America when he was struck by the qualities and force of American women; and after thoughtful observation and close study of American “life, thought, and social conditions,” he passed a judgment on American women: “If I were asked now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply, To the superiority of their women.” If Tocqueville’s attitude may be set down as an exaggeration of French gallantry, to what shall Mr. Brooks’ verdict be traced ?

Into a nutshell Alfred Adler, doctor of medicine and specialist in psychology, from Vienna, compressed his views on the subject of man and woman, when he arrived at the port of New York on September 7, 1935, for the purpose of lecturing in the United States. Dr. Adler had once been a member of the Freudian school but he had broken away from it about 1913 and founded a new school of his own. After his breach with his old master, he declared that Freud had laid too much stress on the drive of sexual passions in human thought and had underemphasized the influence of the lust for prestige and superiority.

Owing to the fame he had won, Dr. Adler was greeted on his arrival by a crowd of reporters eager for interviews covering the popular theme: man-woman. He seemed willing to grant them the privilege, and in the course of his remarks he declared that the idea of women’s inferiority to men is an “immortal myth”; that biology refutes the theory; that the theory has been “promoted by men”; that woman’s “emancipation” is mere “bluff”; but “the idea is so firmly established that nothing can shake it.”

“Of course, men have this inferiority, too,” Dr. AdIer asserted. “All this talk of suffrage, emancipation, and so forth, this is real bluff, that is all. From the very beginning they [women] are made to feel that they are not on a level with men. This, contrary to popular belief, has not been changed by the advances of women during the last few decades. As a matter of fact, the very increase in education and culture among women has made them feel their supposed inferiority more than ever. There is no biological basis for this feeling; it is merely a fictitious invention of the male sex.” And men’s invention, he further declared, sprang from their own feeling of inferiority – a complex from which “the majority of all people suffer at one time or another.”

Is there no remedy for the suffering and misapprehension brought about by the fictitious invention? Is the “immortal myth” too firmly established to be outlawed or changed? Dr. Adler’s proposed panacea lay in the manipulations of individual psychology – not in an inquiry into the origins of the myth or into the historical experience of mankind which might lead to factual conclusions as to its validity or invalidity.