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[187]

XXXVII. trust funds.

The laws and the courts have much to say about “trust funds;” but is not almost all the property owned by women really a trust fund, in the sense that they usually intrust it to somebody, without pretending, or seeking, or even desiring to know anything about it for themselves? Their comfort and the usefulness of their lives, the health and prosperity of their children, may depend upon that property's being well cared for. If they keep house, they feel themselves responsible for the proper preservation of the house as to repair and drainage and all the rest. If they keep a dog, or even a horse, they exercise some supervision over it, and do not leave it wholly to others. But the money that buys the horse or dog, and supports the whole establishment, this they leave absolutely under the control of some man known to them, or sometimes actually unknown. If he tells them to buy a certain stock, they buy it; if he bids then sell, they sell. Whatever legal papers he brings them, they sign-very likely without even reading them. And yet they [188] are in other respects, it may be, women of character, energy, and independence. In the great majority of cases the male adviser is doubtless to be trusted; in a smaller number he is treacherous or incompetent. Often he is the husband, and that only increases the completeness of the confidence, and, if he is unfit for the trust, the rapidity of the downfall. It is not uncommon to see men who have run through two fortunes-their own and that of a wife. I knew a lady, not now living, who inherited $75,000. Her first husband reduced it to $25,000; her second, to nothing. The amount is of no consequence; it is just as easy to run through a million dollars as a hundred, if you only begin to run.

The trouble is that no virtue, no high aim, no devoted affection, is a safeguard against this calamity. The noblest men and the noblest women may be its victims. One of the purest philanthropists I ever knew was an instance of this. He was widely known, had a generosity only too unbounded, and an independent property, his wife also possessing one of her own. He was a trained lawyer, though not practising, and he commanded such confidence that he was repeatedly made trustee or executor under the wills of others. At the end of his life it was found that he had made no separation of the securities representing these trusts from his own.

Nevertheless the trusts were all paid in full from [189] his estate, but it left nothing; his own property and his wife's were almost wholly gone, mostly wasted in worthless investments. he died poor, and left her dependent on charity, although both had been supposed to be rich. The moral is that no woman's property is safe, even in the hands of a saint, unless he is also careful and prudent; and no woman can ever form an opinion as to a man's care and prudence unless she herself cultivates common-sense, and takes pains to know something about business affairs.

This is needful for a woman of large property, and still more for one who has but a trifle. If it lies in real estate, she should learn something about the values of real estate and its laws. If it lies in stocks of any kind, she should know what they represent, and watch for herself their rise and fall. It is not necessary that she should manage her property in person, any more than it is necessary that a man should build his own house; but as the wise man visits his house frequently while building, and does not leave all to even his treasure of a master-carpenter, so a woman at least needs to know how the house of her own fortunes is to be built and kept in order. Most fathers now recognize this after a fashion in the case of their own daughters; but when the daughter actually asks a question, it is much easier to reply, hurriedly, “Don't trouble your little head about that, dear,” than to spare a [190] moment to explain to her how a bank is carried on, or a joint-stock company organized. Years ago I read an admirable address by a Boston merchant, then eminent, in which he strongly urged the training of women in business habits, and the value to a husband of a wife who could understand his affairs. When I reminded his daughter the other day of this address of forty years ago, she said, with regret, “I wish he had given that instruction in his own family, but he never did.”

The mysteries of the Stock Exchange may not be an essential study, but the general principles which govern investment and income are within the reach of all. The commonplaces of this knowledge-as, that something cannot usually be obtained for nothing — that a low and certain income is better than one dangerously high — that people cannot afford to play a game they do not understand with opponents who know every move of it — that the investment of even a small property should be made in a variety of directions, so as not to have all one's eggs in one basket, as the saying is-these things are not so hard to learn. If those who yearn for a tempting speculation could once comprehend that when you lend a man $1000 at exorbitant interest, he can easily pay you that interest for a year or two out of your own money, if he can then be allowed to abscond or go into bankruptcy with the rest of it, then it [191] would not be so easy to allure women into worthless “Women's banks.” The folly is not confined to women, as the victims of Grant and Ward proved; but probably those sufferers were more experienced, and therefore less the subjects of pity.

In our public schools girls are, on the whole, the best mathematicians. They know the difference between principal and interest in the arithmetic-book, and can rattle off the problem on the blackboard very quickly. What they need is, whether they are supporting themselves or not, to be encouraged to keep their own accounts, and for that purpose to have a definite allowance, and to have, if possible, a little money property of their own, in order to acquire the habit of looking after it. The busiest father or husband has time enough to answer a few plain questions, and there are little manuals of business that make the essentials much simpler things than a mayonnaise-dressing or a new chain-stitch. I will not say for girls what a respectable livery-stable keeper once said to me about boys — that the first thing is to teach them the value of a dollar. “That's what I call the corner-stone,” he added; but when one sees from the high table-land of middle life the wrecks of households made by the ignorance and over-confidence of women, one cannot help wishing that the little property they usually possess might be less exclusively a “trust fund.”

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