The Rose Door

Chapter 11

The next day Grace held out a little book to Mrs. Thompson, saying:

" This was a gift from my idiosyncratic friend --I think it will interest you."

That evening in bed, Mrs. Thompson opened it:

"The Social Evil is very old, nearly as old as human society itself. As far back as history gives any record, evidences of the existence of this peculiar and terrible traffic can be found. Throughout the ages man has been the strong, invasive, dominant sex and women have been more or less weak, dependent, subservient. In various ways, from savagery to modern civilization, women have been subjugated; they have been first captured, beaten, stolen, then bought, and cajoled; and after all, prostitution is but one phase of this general and all-prevailing dominance of man. Out of this very prevalence of mastery on the one hand and subserviency on the other, men have grown stronger physically and mentally, women smaller, weaker, more dependent in character. The difference in strength and power very early in the history of the race became fixed and permanent. In the early stage of society, after masculine dominance had been established, sex relations were merely a matter of capture and conquer. Women had no choice in the transaction, whatever.

"Of course, such a state of society, made prostitution impossible. Prostitution is defined, as, 'selling one's self for the use of another for a price' and this could not be done by persons who did not own their own bodies. Women could be lent or sold by their masters, but they did not possess the right to bestow themselves on any man, for money or love.

" it is true that riotous and excessive intercourse prevailed during the earlier stages of human society. But women were not consulted as to their wishes. The chiefs of the tribes owned all the women and they exchanged or lent them to one another."

Mrs. Thompson threw the book down; it nauseated her; perhaps a woman who had led the life Grace had, might be able to read the article without qualm, but she, herself, did not feel benefited by the perusal. She looked about her to change the current of her thoughts; the soft tinted walls rested her eyes; the velvet carpet spoke of quiet footfall and the down beneath her body held her easy as a rocking mother's arms. There was peace in the world and rest and -- sleep.
The next night in the same bright room on the same couch of down she reached for the book.

"The idea of marriage arose thus: a scarcity of women, or admiration for one particular woman, first aroused in man the desire for permanent possession; but for a long while wives were communal property for the communal system extended to everything. For her to dispose of her person without authorization was a capital crime, but the husband had the undisputed right to lend out or barter his wives.

" So that as yet, there were no women free to sell themselves and personally receive the price. They were still sold, given away or lent; but they could not dispose of themselves in any of these ways. Modern prostitution had not yet begun.

"With the evolution of private property, in lands, dwellings and cattle, the idea of permanent marriage between one man and one woman began to grow up. But even where a monogamic form of marriage prevailed, polygamy has always existed; also cases of polyandry. But with the conception of private possessions came the desire that one's own children might inherit these possessions; therefore the custom of one man taking one woman to be exclusively his own, to whom no other man must ever be admitted, sprang up and came to be a deeply rooted institution. When the man's own strong, right arm could not always be present to enforce obedience, a sort of mental watch dog was provided, by inculcating the idea of duty and of the honor to be found in faithfulness and virtue--on the part of the wife. Moses, too, at a very opportune time strengthened the spiritual shackles with a convenient: 'Thus saith the Lord! Thy desire shall be unto thy husband and he shall rule over thee.' Thus woman's status in society was fixed for ages to come."

Mrs. Thompson laid down the book. She must digest that much before reading further.

Another night in lounging robe of delicate feel, on the bed of down by a low-hanging bulb of light, Mrs. Thompson picked up the book of disgusting recital to look for the name of the irritating author. Why, the investigations of a physician? Were they really facts? She opened to her last reading.

" The earth and its products coming to be held as private property, it naturally followed that a large portion of mankind were left without land or homes or means of living. The majority of women were married or owned exclusively by individual men and in that sense,'provided for.' But there was still a large class of women who did not belong to anyone; fathers, uncles or brothers not being able to care for or suitably dispose of all their womenkind. Naturally, the dispossessed put their wits to work to make themselves useful to, or desired by the possessing classes in any and every way possible to imagine. Men prostituted their talents, their powers, their skill, and the women who belonged to them in any way. Free women prostituted themselves. "Thus the history of prostitution is the history of private poverty in the earth and all that it brings forth when labor is applied to it."

Mrs. Thompson leaned back on soft pillows and closed her eyes. As a young girl, she had been sent to a " finishing " school where graciousness of manner and musical and literary polish had been grafted on to a nature already sweet and refined. As a wife, she was chastity itself; as a mother, unselfish, utterly. Society found her interested in philanthropic enterprises, and an authority in Shakespearian Clubs. "Versatile," her friends called her. " Educated !" Mrs. Thompson spoke to Mrs. Thompson, " and I knew no more of the origin of marriage and private property than does Susie! A well-informed woman! who thought prostitution was entered upon for pleasure."

She took up the book with the light gone out of her eyes.

" Man has set the world-old example of sex barter with no element of love whatever in it. Women, driven by destitution, find it easy to do what they have been cowed and beaten into doing for ages.

" Now the thought will arise that not all women who sell themselves do so because of actual, dire destitution. Many have yielded themselves through an extreme love of finery and things of beauty, or from the hope of greater luxury and more leisure than an honest life would afford them. This is all too true. Society has made the earning of a good, decent living for the average woman a very difficult thing. It has made the opportunities for exercising her faculties and abilities to advantage very scarce indeed. Always, under our economic system, there is a large class of unemployed workers. This must inevitably be the case when the actual workers are not paid enough to buy back one-fourth of what they produce. An ever abundant surplus of goods on the market, necessitates hard times, or no work at all to a large number of wage workers. The individual members of the class change each month perhaps, but the class is always there. Women have a natural love for the beautiful and for refinement and sweetness of life and a little daily leisure is like a glimpse of heaven to most of them. For the innate, uncomprehended craving so many women experience, they do voluntarily sell themselves, without love and without passion, hoping to find the ease, luxury, beauty and cheer they long for, and little dreaming how much worse their fate will be than it was before.

" Women marry to gain wealth, position, influence, leisure and luxury, and the world does not condemn them; yet they are no different and no better than the women who give themselves for a month, a week or an hour for these same things."

Again Mrs. Thompson laid down the book. Her mind ran over the marriages of her schoolgirl friends. Clara loved Sammy and married Dick; they went to Europe for a year. Emily married a widower sixty years old, but she has servants and a chauffeur.

She resumed her reading:

"What is the alternative to-day for the good woman, who will not give herself in either of these ways, and who has not inherited money or has no father or brother who is willing to support her? Progress has opened up many new fields of activity for woman, but after all she will find the struggle to earn a living a nerve-wearing and bitter struggle. Not all women can marry the men they love--what else can they do?

"If the woman takes up sewing for a living she must work ten, twelve or more hours a day, as fast as her fingers can fly, seated in a close room, getting no physical exercise, until disease sets its fatal mark upon her; and she will receive for it barely enough to keep body and soul together. Or else she can work in some of the factories under similar conditions; or she can go to work in somebody's kitchen and be looked upon as a machine, without feelings, desires or capacity for happiness; a creature not fit to sit with, to eat with or to talk with, one who is not supposed to need love or friendship or companionship. What self-respecting woman will voluntarily choose such an existence?--to wash and scrub and grow bent and wrinkled with hard, knotted hands and ugly form; be always tired and always just outside the circle where life is really lived.

" Or one may rise to be a stenographer, a bookkeeper or a clerk. But even here, unless one buys her position with her sex favors, it is insecure and she is poorly paid and ill-considered."

"Susie!" burst from Mrs. Thompson's lips and, " Susie, Susie," rang through all her dreams that night.

Every word she had read she hated. She hated the very color of the book, yet she opened it at the first moment of leisure next day.

"A teacher, perhaps, has a better chance as her hours are not so long and she is treated with some respect by her patrons. But women who teach continuously, are usually nervous wrecks at forty or forty-five. Women do sometimes make good canvassers or agents. If they possess a quality generally known as 'cheek' and are not sensitive to the treatment they receive from strangers they may make a success of it and may not be compelled to work all the time. But the woman has to know that she is forcing articles upon people which they do not want, and she must too often feel herself a fraud. All these devious ways are so dreary, so ugly, so devoid of all that makes life worth living·, that it is a strong character indeed that can turn back from the enticement of an apparently easy life spent in ministering to a man's desires, to take up the dull plodding life of a common wage worker.

"The majority of prostitutes come from the wage-earning classes, which proves that women are driven to such a life. Typewriter girls, bookeepers and clerks are easy prey to their employers, because they are often in the midst of well-dressed, refined people, and see gaiety, enjoyment, good cheer on every side and find it impossible to participate in any of these, or to dress decently on the wages they receive for mere toil. The master, or the master's son considers the domestic servant legitimate prey; when the masters have tired of them, or they have been discovered by the mistresses, they are turned out; what other resource have they but to drift to the houses of prostitution?

" Laundry women seldom work longer than three or four years before breaking down. They earn from four to eight dollars a week."

Mrs. Thompson arose and left the house for a walk. She wanted to look at life as she had done before Grace Howells loomed upon her horizon. She would, by calm reflection, get back to her previous point of view --" God's in his heaven; all's right with the world"--and forget that of this pessimistic doctor.

She walked one block, and then headed for home, where she removed her wraps and hurriedly took up the book.

" Women are not as sweet and noble to-day as nature would have had them, for woman was first mastered, beaten into submission, robbed, outraged, violated; until her whole sweet, natural sex nature became distorted and stunted; later on she was starved and frozen into offering her body with apparent willingness, and then she was flattered, coaxed, and humored until she would consent to become a docile plaything. Sometimes, she has been placed upon a pedestal and worshipped, not for her humanity but for her sex; again she has been hawked about and offered for sale by ambitious parents seeking buyers in worn-out old roues, with titles or money bags.

" Can there be any wonder that women are what they are--shallow, volatile, deceitful, vain, incapable of great love or of great actions."

Mrs. Thompson leaned back in her chair, "Where, oh where, is the cure for this'" she groaned.

" Mamma, do something quick ! " Susie stood before her with a cut finger.

It was a dear task tenderly to bind it -- nature would do the rest. But the incident only caused her question to echo more loudly--"Where is the cure? Where is the cure?" Perhaps the book would answer at the last. She took it up:

"Where there is poverty and destitution there will be prostitution, both of men and women."

" Yes, but where is the cure? " she persisted.

"A prominent merchant in a large city was asked to subscribe five hundred dollars toward the building of a 'home' for fallen women. He amiably complied, and the next morning reduced the napes of all the sewing women in his manufacturing department--and thus gave them an extra push toward the path that led to his 'home' for fallen women."

"But the cure? "

"Vice and crime can be abolished. When? When we are certain of the cause of them -- and then remove those causes. What are their causes? Involuntary poverty."

A trifle indeed! Remove poverty! But a command is not an explanation. How was this petty obstruction to be pushed aside? Could the gloomy healer prescribe the antidote? She resumed the book.

"'But the law might do something to wipe out the evil, surely,' exclaim some. The world has been legislating against sin for thousands of years, but the sin remains just the same. Cleaning out a bagnio is like clearing an old, decaying house of rats by making a loud noise and frightening them away for a time. All the unhappy wretches exist still and must live in some way. They have no other way of securing it except by practicing their old profession, only, now, they do it more secretively and in darker and more dangerous corners. Nothing but a complete change in the social and economic institutions and systems of our civilization will effect a cure for the evil under discussion; little remedies do not actually affect the evil and its underlying cause. The world is waking up to the fact that all human beings are related and that what concerns one concerns all!"

" The concern of one is the concern of all," murmured Mrs. Thompson. " It is true, it is true ! My Frank! My Susie! " and again Mrs. Thompson leaned back with closed eyes which saw.

The book continued to call.

"While there are owners of the earth and homeless ones, because of it; while there are masters and servants; while there are the favored few and the oppressed majority, there will always be wrongs and abuses which cannot be cured. The earth and all its resources, must belong to all alike. Useful labor must be the only foundation for the ownership of wealth. None should be overworked--drudgery dulls the faculties, paralyzes the brain and dwarfs the body. This is pure selfishness, enlightened, for each will possess enough and need not fear the encroachments of his needy brother.

" When all are afforded full opportunity to act and develop and grow, does anyone think that man or woman will sell himself or herself for base uses? Would there be any cause for prostitution? Certainly not."

Mrs. Thompson closed the book, repeating, "Certainly not."

One day the eyes did not open; one day the cheeks were not red; and from the stiffened fingers Mrs. Thompson drew a crumpled paper-the dreams, the homesick dreams of Minnesota:

Home of gentle Minnehaha,
Of Winona, child of air;
Shrine of grieving Hiawatha,
Minnetonka's shady lair.
Temple of Saint Anthony's alto
Where he singeth without care;
Hunting ground of the Dacotah--
That, oh that is Minnesota.

Where the clouds are sunlit ever;
Where the skies give deepest blue;
Where a thousand lakes laugh heavenward;
Where a thousand bluffs peer through
Pine tree boughs, whose leaves drop healing,
Where come hope and youth anew,
And where loved the fierce Dacotah--
There, oh there, is Minnesota.

Where the breezes croon in chorus,
Mississippi's birth place o'er;
Where great oak trees, giant sentries,
Guard the mighty river's shore;
Where the golden-rod, the regal,
Makes an endless golden floor,
And where sleeps the brave Dacotah--
There, oh there, is Minnesota.

When thy sons, beyond thy valleys,
By life's toil are pushed afar;
Homesick grow they for thy glories,
For thy winter's snowy spar!
Long they for the Cloudy Water,
Hear it calling, calling far
As it called to the Dacotah:
Minnesota! Minnesota!