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[7]

II. outside of the shelter.

Many years ago, in April, 1859, Harriet Martineau wrote an article on “Female industry,” in the Edinburgh Review, and stated very forcibly the wholly changed conditions of women's labor since the days when “Adam delved and eve span.” She called attention to the simple fact that a very large proportion of English women now earn their own bread, and that upon this changed condition the whole question must turn. “A social organization,” she said, “framed for a community of which half staved at home while the other half went out to work cannot answer the purposes of a society of which a quarter remains at home while three-quarters go out to work.” She pointed out that while it might formerly leave been true, as a rule, that men supported women, it was also true that this state of things had already ceased to be the general fact. “Three millions out of six of adult English women work for subsistence, and two out of the three in independence. With this new condition of affairs, new duties and new views must be adopted.” [8]

Nearly thirty years have passed, and a great many people seem still to believe that if women would only behave themselves they could easily live indoors, and spend their whole lives in weaving and spinning, like their great-grandmothers. But they could not do it, simply because there would be no market for their labors. In Homer's “Odyssey,” when Nausikaa of the white arms has had a dream, she goes through the halls to tell her royal parents --“her father dear and her mother.” She finds them still in-doors: “Her mother sat by the hearth among the waiting-women, spinning sea-purple yarn; she met her father at the door, just going forth to join the famous princes at the council.” But if Nausikaa of the white arms went to tell her parents a dream in these days, she might still very possibly meet her father going forth to join the princes (merchant princes) at the council (Stock Exchange), but she certainly would not find her mother amid her attendants spinning clothes for the family. Nor would Nausikaa herself afterwards go with her own maidens to the river with the family washing for the avowed purpose of putting in order the costumes of three bachelor brothers, always eager to wear something new to the dance. The whole conditions of labor, of costume, and of everything else are changed; so that to wear homespun, which was once the glory of the highest, is [9] now the painful necessity of only the humblest. A smoking-cap is now the only garment that Nausikaa can prepare for her bachelor brothers, or at the most she can crochet for them an afghan-or, as Irish house-maids with geographical boldness term it, “an African” --to put over them during an afternoon nap. Even the home-made shirts, which lasted till within the memory of this generation, have now come within the domain of the shopkeeper. The sister would not weave or spin for her brother if he wished it; and he, in turn, would rather gratify her in any other way than by wearing garments of her spinning or weaving. The reign of Alcinous and his white-armed daughter has passed; the reign of “store clothes” has begun.

The change seems inevitable, but it has driven women out of shelter. The linen and the woollen must still be woven and made into garments, but it must be done away from home. Even the few arts of this kind that lingered longest beneath the cottage roof have almost or quite vanished. Hannah is no longer “at the window binding shoes,” or Delia braiding straw hats. Industry is systematized: Hannah and Delia go to labor at the “shop,” or at the “works,” or the “factory.” They still do in substance what the women did beneath the roof of King Alcinous; but instead of doing it as in those days, in return for home and protection and [10] food, they do it for money. They are no longer under shelter; they are thrown out into the great, busy, bustling world; they make their own contract for wages, and collect these for themselves. They are as far as possible from the condition of perpetual tutelage which was, according to Sir Henry Maine, the recognized position of the Roman woman, following out more systematically the condition of her Greek sister. And this being the case, we must recognize the alteration. Our laws, our education, our social habits, must all adapt themselves to it.

It is a curious fact that our word “meretricious” is derived directly from the Latin word meretrix, meaning a woman of degraded character; and that this again was derived from the seemingly harmless word mereo, to earn money. The assumption was that there was no way in which money could be earned by a woman innocently; the mere earning implied moral disgrace. Not only is it now respectable for women to earn money, but they must usually leave home for the purpose. If they are to support themselves, they must be looked for everywhere but at home, and often in the very places where men most congregate. The shops most expressly devoted to the other sex-men's clothing-stores, for instance — may have women installed as book — keepers. Go into those great lives of men [11] collected under one roof in a city for the pursuit of law, or brokerage, or business agencies, and any door that opens may show you some modest young woman busy as a copyist or type-writer. Nobody thinks of it, nobody notices it; when her work is done she ties her bonnet under her chin and goes down the elevator and out of the door. In the days of Alcinous and Nausikaa such a mode of living would have been inconceivable; in the days of Fielding and Richardson it would have been the way to disgrace and destruction; now it is simply the normal state of things. What we do not see is that the freedom in which the mass of women now live, and are destined to live, implies a very different mode of training, and a wholly different code of laws, from the time when there were but two positions supposable — out-doors for men, in-doors for women; from the time, in short, when women were not yet outside of the shelter.

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