Dora B. Montefiore, New Age April 1905
Source: New Age, p. 266-267, 27 April 1905;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
A friend has sent me a copy of an American weekly magazine, The Independent, which contains an article bearing the title:- “Why I Have no Family,” and signed “A Childless Wife.” The magazine can be obtained at 130, Fulton Street, New York, but as an American magazine is not so easily obtainable as is an English one, I propose giving in this column extracts from it, showing the drift of the writer’s purpose, and I shall be glad to have letters from women giving me their opinion on the subject. The editor of the magazine prefaces the article by a little note, which I transcribe, as it appears to me to place the writer and her husband before us in a vital and intimate light. President Roosevelt’s lecture, last week, to the women of America on the duties of motherhood, and its rewards, makes the publication of the two following articles particularly opportune. In regard to the “Childless Wife,” we wish to say that if anyone is justified in following out her theories she herself is, for she is one of the most useful and able of the younger women of America in her field of social service, and her husband is equally useful in his field. Both of them are not infrequent contributors to the Independent under their own signatures.
So much for the editor; now for what the childless wife has to say. “My husband and I are young, well in mind and body, comfortably situated financially, love each other devotedly, and are fond of children; yet after five years of married life we have no family, and have no present intention of ever having any. We are not selfish and pleasure-loving; on the contrary, the principal aim of our lives, as well as our standard of human value, is social usefulness. Nor, are we lonely and full of heart-longings, as childless people are supposed to be. Moreover, we believe that to have children would be detrimental to our usefulness as members of society, detract from the happiness of our marriage, and make us lower, not nobler, people. I say ‘we,’ because this story concerns my husband almost as much as myself. He is even more opposed to our having children than I am, and is more firmly convinced that it would be in every way the wrong thing for us to do. Such women as myself, and the one writes under the title of ‘The Bachelor Maid,’ are the products of modern conditions. We are often called New Women, and I accept the title as appropriate. There were no such girls as she, no such young wives as I, before the woman movement began fifty years ago. There were few, very few, twenty years ago. There are thousands of us to-day. New men are more rare than new women, though they exist. The old explanation of man’s misconduct, cherchez la femme, is a half truth; it applies to good as well as evil. Therefore, given the woman of new ideas and ideals, the man to meet her demands will sooner or later appear, .... for men constantly endeavour to become what women wish them to be.
“As long as women are willing to be submissive, self-obliterating, long-suffering and much-forgiving, men will complement them by being tyrannical, all-important, selfish, and offensive. When women demand independence, self-development and consideration, refusing marriage on other terms, they will get what they desire. When I was still young there came the shock of learning from my mother of the double standard of morality, which condones the pollution of the majority of young men; of the degrading submission in the intimate relations of marriage expected of the average wife, and of the different judgments passed upon infidelity in husbands and in wives. ‘Women have to forgive, because they are helpless,’ explained my mother patiently. ‘What can a woman with a family do? She has to make the best of matters and stay with her husband, no matter what he does, because he has the money.’ .... If I cannot marry a pure man, own myself, and exact the faithfulness I give, I'll stay single, I declared. ‘That is the only thing you can do until you change your ideas,’ said my mother, smiling sadly at what she considered my impracticable, girlish ideals.” The writer then describes at some length her work, and her acquaintanceship, between the age of eighteen and twenty-five, with various men, some of whom asked for a warmer response on her part than that of friendship.
“He appeared on my horizon as a special writer, on a subject of which he was master, for the magazine of which I was one of the editors. His work I had followed for some time, but the man was a revelation: He was gentle and strong, free and pure in mind and life. He wanted liberty for others as well as for himself. He delighted in unconventional ideas and habits of life, and was as fearless an analyst of existing conditions and customs as myself... To be sure that there was no mistake, that he loved me for what I really was, I explained to him most fully my exact opinions on marriage... Of children we spoke, but decided to wait until we felt the desire for them.... But when, after our marriage, we definitely considered the problem of parenthood, it presented complications. We were both deeply interested in social activities, which we believed most useful to our fellow men and women, but which were not only unlucrative, but a source of expense. Our double income, however, gave us both the opportunity of expending only part of our energies in money-making. We thus had leisure for our social interests. The coming of children would change all this They would take most, if not all my time, and destroy both my earning power and my social usefulness. ... We question whether those people do right who destroy the social usefulness of their lives to produce children, who are, at best, experiments. Is the only, or always the highest, duty to society the raising of children? Some children become a social curse; some are nonentities; only some are a decided benefit... I know it will be pointed out that some achieve both a family and a social work. But such are few; the majority, to paraphrase Goldsmith,
Narrow the mind,
And give to the family what was meant for mankind.’
“Many people, most serviceable to the world, have left behind them children almost useless. Often the family of a great man or woman is the only commonplace product of his or her life, making one feel that the energy spent in bearing or rearing such mediocre children might well have been used to better advantage. Of course, we might produce children far superior to ourselves, in which event we would be justified in giving up our lives to them. If, third alternative, they were as good, but no better, why should not we live out our lives and serve society now, instead of postponing such service a generation? Altogether, considering the chances, we have decided not to risk our work on such a doubtful experiment.” The writer also passes in review the risks of childbearing to health and life; and remarks: “I love my life and I enjoy my good health. I fear to risk such precious possessions .... I am happy now; am living a life that satisfies the needs of my nature. I do not believe domestic life would suit me, and I am sure I could not endure economic dependence.... Our marriage is now the union of two equals. We believe that makes its happiness. How can it remain the same in spirit if the relation between us change, and I become, not his equal, but his dependent?.. If a woman’s living depends upon pleasing a man, how is she going to deny the indulgence of his strongest appetite? Or, if a man provides for a woman, and knows she can get nothing except from him, how can he help realising that he owns her?” These are some of the -problems that the “Childless Wife” has faced, and solved in her own fashion, and before writing my own thoughts on the subject, I should, as I said above, be glad to hear from any women, or men, who may have any opinion to offer, on what is undoubtedly one of the social and economic problems of the day.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.