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A New Atmosphere by Gail Hamilton

A most perverted and unwomanly taste


and they were all ladies and

did not want to work, but must all teach, and there were no schools for so many; what could be done with them? It was an evil that seemed to be growing worse every year. The implied grievance was, that educated women were a drug in the market; and the implied remedy, that girls should be left more uncultivated that they might be turned to commoner uses. I pass over that accurate knowledge of things shown in the unconscious contrast between working and teaching,--over the gross utilitarianism implied in both grievance and redress,--simply remarking, that, if the excess of supply over demand would justify the breaking up of High Schools, the domestic education of this generation should be largely discontinued for the same reason, and that in fact there seems to be no real and adequate resource, except to manage with girl babies as you do with kittens, save the fifth and drown the rest,--to say that girls do very wrong in regarding teaching as the sole or the chief honorable employment. That occupation is the one for them to which a natural taste calls them, no matter what may be its rank in society. In fact, let it not be forgotten that society looks with a degree of disfavor on any remunerative employment for women. To be entirely beyond the reach of cavil, they must be consumers, and not producers; and since, to turn into producers will forfeit somewhat their caste, let them make capital out of the rural and remote adage, that one may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and
while they are about it, follow the thing that good is to them. If girls of wealth and standing, who also possess character and decision, would act upon their principles when they have them, and follow the lead of their tastes when their taste leads them into a milliner's shop, or a watch factory, or a tailor's room, they would do much more than satisfy their own consciences. They would do a service to their sex, and through their sex to the other, and so to the whole world, which would outweigh whatever small sacrifice it might cost them. For the world is so constituted that to him that hath shall be given. If he have power, he shall have still more. Those who are independent of the world's sufferance are tolerably sure to get it. Let a poor girl go to work, and it is nothing at all. She is obliged to do it, and society does not so much as turn a look upon her; but let a girl go out from her brown-stone five-story house, from the care and attendance of servants, to work for three or five hours a day, because she honestly believes that the accident of wealth does not relieve her from moral responsibility, and because, of all forms of labor practicable to her, that seems the one to which she is best adapted, and immediately there is a commotion. The brown-stone friends are shocked and scandalized, which is probably the best thing that could happen to them. Desperate cases can only be electrified back into life. But it is the first girl alone that will cause a shock. The second will make but a faint sensation. The third will be quite commonplace, and when things come to that pass, that if a woman wishes to do a thing she can do it, and that is the end of it, there is little more to be desired in that line.

I know a young lady, the only daughter of a distinguished family, with abundant means at her command, with parents whose great happiness it is to promote hers,--a young lady who has only to fancy what a nice thing it must be to live in a bird's-nest on a tree-top, and immediately the carpenters come and build her a bower in the tallest tree that overlooks the sea. This young lady has a strong inclination to surgery, a most perverted and unwomanly taste, of course; but so long as it is a womanly weakness to break one's arms, perhaps it is as well that some woman should be unwomanly enough to set them. At any rate, there was the taste; nobody put it there, and something must be done about it. Being the sensible daughter of sensible parents, who looked upon tastes as hints of powers, instead of disregarding this hint and devoting her life to her garden, making calls, and a forced and feeble piano-worship,--all very nice things, but not quite exhaustive of immortal capacities,--she set herself down to the study of surgery and medicine. It was no superficial and sensational whim. Year after year, month after month, week after week, showed no abatement of enthusiasm. On the contrary, her interest grew with her growing knowledge. She left without regret, without any weak regrets, her luxurious home for the secluded and severe student's life, and by patient and laborious application made herself master of the science. I look upon her almost as an apostle, though she is very far from taking on apostolic airs. She quietly pursues the even tenor of her way as if it were the beaten track. But in doing this she does ten thousand times more. She opens the path for a host of feet less strong than hers.


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