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XLI. A woman's enterprise.

I had a call the other day from a lady below middle-age who wished to consult me about some business arrangements that had become necessary for her. Instead of having become entangled in financial difficulties β€” which is, I am sorry to say, the condition of most of those of her sex who come to me for such consultations-she was embarrassed by too much success. She was, it appeared, a married woman from some interior town in New England, who had inherited from her father several pieces of property, a small woollen mill being among them. The property included another mill of a different kind, and of this her husband took charge; and they were at first inclined to sell the woollen mill. It proved, however, to be an unfavorable time for this; and while the matter was pending, she took the entire charge of the mill and carried it on. Becoming interested in it, she made improvements and tried experiments, the result of which was that she had now made blankets of such a quality that she had been offered contracts which would keep [208] the mill running day and night for a year. But for this there would be absolutely required certain expenditures in the way of machinery, buildings, etc., and her object was to ask advice as to the best way of raising the necessary money for this purpose. She had been advised to form a joint-stock company, and yet felt a natural dislike to having the enterprise pass into other hands, after carrying it thus far herself. She ended by showing me a sample of the blankets, which I could only regard with inexperienced amazement, having never seen anything of the kind so thick, soft, and luxurious. I could hardly wonder that they were worth, as she claimed, fifty dollars a pair.

Leaving neither money to invest nor practical knowledge of the woollen manufacture, I could only give her letters of introduction to three men of high standing in different branches of that business. From two of these I have since heard; and they were apparently even more surprised than I was, because they were better acquainted with the subject. One of them writes thus:

Mrs.--called on me to-day, and I am very glad you introduced her. She is not only a bright woman but an exceptional manufacturer, and I shall try to help her. She brought a specimen of her blankets, and I showed then to the wool-buyer of the-- Mills, who happened to be in my office at [209] the time. He thought they must have been made by the Mission Mills of California, which make the best blankets in the country. It is those blankets she set herself to beat, if possible. he was genuinely surprised.

My other correspondent sent me word that neither of his mills-He being treasurer of several-had attained to producing such a quality of blankets as these, or to obtaining a price so high as these might fairly command. He also said that it had become known in the trade that there was one mill in New England which produced goods of this high grade, all sold by one house, and not generally accessible, and that these were apparently the very ones. He gave the lady a letter to a capitalist, and was quite confident that she would obtain the funds needed to enlarge her establishment and fulfil her proposed contracts. I quote the opinions of these gentlemen because they are experts, and not easily to be misled as to the quality of goods, or to be carried away by sympathy. Their verdict may be taken as establishing the fact that a woman has succeeded in taking the lead of all others in the Eastern States in a most difficult branch of manufacture, and this by her own energies.

It is easy to say that a woman thus successful must be a very exceptional woman. No doubt; just as all great inventors, such as Bell or Edison, [210] are very exceptional men. It is quite probable that she may have inherited from lier father, who preceded her in the mill, some special talent for machinery. It is often so with men, since talent is often hereditary and even cumulative, what is mere taste in a father sometimes becoming a distinct gift in the son, and being called genius in the grandson. But talent or even genius alone makes a mere amateur; she had also the courage to plan and the will to carry out, and with such results as we have seen. She expressly told me that it had cost her a good deal of labor, and that she habitually went to the mill at 6 A. M., and knew all that was going on there every day. Her husband, as has been said, was occupied with his own share of business, and left hers undisturbed. Her success shows not merely the ability of a woman to plan and execute, but the readiness of practical men to co-operate with such a woman after she has once proved her credentials. She said that she had found no trouble in this respect, and that the banks in her region had been as willing to accommodate her as if she were a man.

Such an example does not prove that it is the duty of all women to undertake business enterprises, any more than it is the duty of all men to paint pictures or open retail shops. There must be a proper consideration of special talents. In [211] this case, it appears, my visitor had tested herself very carefully as she went along, had taken up the undertaking as a temporary matter only, and had been carried on by the interest with which it inspired her, and by her own evident adaptation to the work. The use of her example is not in its being followed implicitly or foolishly, but in the help it gives to all women who dare. When Margaret Fuller, in answer to a question from one who wished to set limits to the sphere of women, answered, β€œLet them be sea-captains, if yon will,” she did not foresee that Captain Betsey Miller, of the bark Cleotus, would erelong be doing the very thing which she had selected at random as an extreme instance. One of the very functions which have been oftenest named as beyond the natural gift of woman has been the superintendence of a large manufacturing establishment, involving as it does three separate faculties β€” a knowledge of machinery, a business aptitude, and the capacity to control men. Yet here these three qualities have been combined, and have been tested by success. The result should surely encourage every other woman who hesitates before some similar opportunity. One such victory does not prove that every other success is certain, but shows that it need not be set aside as impossible merely because it is unusual.

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