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[115]

XXIII. the independent Purse.

Where I asked what change would make most difference in the happiness of married pairs, it would not be hard to answer. The change would not relate to the laws of divorce, whether loosened or tightened; it would not even he in conceding to women the right of the separate boudoir, though it has always seemed to me that it would enhance the dignity and delicacy, and therefore the happiness, of wedded life, if every woman had an apartment of which she might turn the key, even against her husband, as freely as he may turn the key of his study or his office. But the change now meant is one already effected in many families, and always, I suspect, with happy results — the introduction, under some form, of the Independent Purse.

By this institution is meant something quite beyond that mere allowance for dress, or for household expenses, which is so often made in families. That is usually based on sheer convenience. There is no more thought of justice in it than in the sum allowed to Bridget to buy yeast, or to Michael for [116] horse-feed. The true division is not based on convenience, but on right — on the knowledge, namely, that the wife's share of the day's work is as essential as the husband's, and that there should be some equality in the distribution of proceeds. The family relation is, in its merely business aspects, a kind of co-partnership. Now it is very common in such partnerships for one partner to see to the manufacturing or to the care of the property, while all the money passes through another partner's hands. But he who handles the money does not therefore regard it all as primarily his own, nor does he talk of “giving” it to the other partners; they simply draw their share of the profits from time to time, under conditions agreed upon. They draw it as of right, not through his kindness. Why is it not so with a wife?

In a few cases, no doubt, such a proposition would be unreasonable. There are cases where the wife is a toy, and does nothing to help her husband, so that he could both make and spend his income more judiciously without her. So there are cases, on the other side, where the wife supports the husband outright, whether this be done by ballet-dancing or at the wash-tub. These are extreme cases, and may be set aside together. In the great mass of instances the wife helps the husband in establishing the fortunes of the family, or — in modester phrase-earning [117] its daily bread. Often she does this directly, as in case of the farmer's wife, who usually works as hard as her husband, and, indeed, in new communities, where domestics are hard to get, much harder. Even in this case it is almost always the husband who is the treasurer, who collects the money earned, and “gives” --or perhaps does not give it to his wife. But where her share is not so obvious, it is just as essential. Every woman who takes care of her own household lifts exactly that much off her husband's shoulders, and leaves him free to attend to the outside business of the firm, for which the money comes in. Alas! many a woman works herself to death before her husband discovers, by what it costs him to buy the services of housekeepers and nurses, that the mere material labor of his wife was worth a salary. He is happy if he does not see reason to think that if he had only “given” her the amount of that salary he might have saved her. After all, Whittier is mistaken; it is not “It might have been!” that are the saddest words. “ad I only known!” are a great deal sadder.

Some time or other, it may be, we shall discover the simple mathematical formula by which to adjust this matter of income. Meanwhile we must guess at it. It will be evident, on a little thought, that a married woman needs much more than an allowance for food and clothing — the food to be shared by [118] her household, the clothing to include probably that of her younger children. She needs such an income as will make her in some sort the equal of her husband as to her general expenditures, dress included. Probably the item of dress is the one department in which women are habitually more liberal in expenditure than their husbands; and this results in part from the customs of society — customs from which the husbands would by no means wish their wives to depart. But, apart from dress, there certainly prevails among men a much freer standard of small expenditures than among women, and this where there are no habits properly to be called profligate. “A cheap lunch for a man,” said a hotel-keeper once to me, “seems a (dear lunch to a woman.” I never visited a woman's club-room that did not look impoverished beside the furnishings of the plainest club-room for men that I ever entered. Who that has collected money for benevolent purposes has not noticed the difference between the sexes as to the standard of giving? Half the time the wife does not venture to give at all until her husband comes home. If, however, she is accustomed to acting independently, she draws from her purse a dollar with some hesitation, whereas he would perhaps give five with none at all; or she tales out five dollars where he would write a check for twenty. Women are certainly as much interested [119] in benevolent enterprises as men, and as willing to give what they have, but they have not the money. Even if they have it by them, they fear to use it, for they have not the habit of the separate purse.

It may be said that it is base and unworthy to treat married life as a co-partnership only. I do not so treat it, for it is much more than that. The trouble is that the system prevalent in many families makes it much less than that. A wrong system makes it a business affair, as far as the labor goes, but tie alliance ceases when the distribution of profits is concerned — as if in a large firm the partner having charge of the books should balance them for his own convenience at the end of the year, and deposit the undivided profits to his own private credit in the bank. Marriage is something more than a co-partnership, but it is nothing less; it is governed by higher laws, but by no lower. Fortunately the business knowledge of women is steadily increasing, and with it their capacity to deal with money. If a woman, by art or authorship or bookkeeping, has earned a thousand dollars a year before marriage-and such instances are now common — it is absurd to ask her, after marriage, to work harder in her household than before, and yet handle less money, while her husband handles plenty. It is not a question of economy where economy is needed; [120] women are quite as ready as men to accept the necessity of that. It is a question between sharing and what is called “giving;” a question between justice and the traditional inquiry addressed by a certain Quaker to his wife, in a certain city, “Rachel, where is that nine-pence I gave thee day before yesterday?”

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