The Congress of Women: The Woman Who Has Come

Updated May 6, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

The Woman Who Has Come

Mrs. Charlotte C. Holt was born at New Orleans, La. Her parents were John C. Cushing and Charlotte Waddington Cushing. She was educated at the Chicago High School, and has traveled in the Eastern and Southern United States. She married Granville M. Holt in 1882. Her profession is that of a lawyer. She is a member of the boards of "Chicago Women's Club," "The Protection Agency for Women and Children," and the "State Guardians for Girls." Her postoffice address is 5316 Lexington Avenue, Chicago.

It is said that Max O'Rell, the celebrated French wit, recently made the assertion that if he could choose his nation and his sex, he would choose to be an American woman. If confirmation were needed, therefore, of the fact that this is woman's day, that statement, if true, ought to supply it, for in any other age of the world who ever heard of a man wishing he were a woman. But it seems that in these later days of the nineteenth century-notably this quadri-centennial of our continent's discovery, the women are making such a stir and assuming a position at once so enviable and so unique as to attract the attention of many distinguished people. Indeed, a number of our foreign visitors have expressed themselves very much in the same tenor as Professor Dincha, a Russian delegate from the Bureau of Instruction to the World's Fair, who, on being asked what had impressed him most among the national characteristics during his visit to America, replied, "La Femme."

"Your women," he said, "seem very strange to me-they are equal to the men. Down in the city I see a great building, and I am told it is the Woman's Temple. Out at the Exposition one of the finest buildings is the Woman's Building. In the Congresses at the Art Institute, I see they take an equally prominent part with the men. They talk radically on all subjects, even to the changes of the laws and emancipation. This could not be in Russia. I do not understand it." These and other statements of equal force from quarters equally noteworthy are tending to strengthen a belief which we are very willing to hold that the hour and the women have met-that this is woman's day.

We no longer hear of the coming woman. She is here, every one knows it. Aside from a merely intangible spiritual influence, which it is conceded she has been these many years, she is here now as a great visible corporeal and moral factor. Yes, it is a fact; this is the day of woman, and when the excitement and glitter of this wonderful period of the fair is over, when we cease to shine in the reflected light of woman's glory, what have we seen and heard and learned concerning women that we may take with us to inspire us to higher thoughts, to truer aims, to nobler deeds? This is the great question.

Is this to be anything more to us than a great panorama? Is this kaleidoscopic vision to become something more to us than a memory ? Woman in the abstract, or rather in the aggregate, seems to have done so much. May we not know woman in the concrete-that unit from whom we may gather our personal inspiration? It is useless to point out to us the works of art, the paintings, laces, decorations, which this building is so lavishly displaying. These are all the works of genius. We wish to know a little something about the common, everyday, ordinary kind of a woman, to whose eminence we may any of us hope to attain. It is of her I wish to speak to you to-day. Not in a spirit of criticism or captiousness, not to detract a particle from the credit due to achievements unparalleled in any age, not to quench the ardor or cool the enthusiasm of any woman, but because I feel, in common with many thoughtful people, that there is much now in the so-called woman's movement which is superficial and much that may be ephemeral, much that depends for its support upon artificial means and that may be reactionary. We will be apt to take promise for fulfillment, shadow for substance, the means for the end. I believe a little wholesome reflection just at this time is greatly needed. We need to realize that cities do not grow in a day. Characters are not formed in six months, and that the great principles of growth are as absolutely essential in this movement as they have proven to be in all others.

Now the thought which I wish to leave with you today is: That our ideal woman has become a reality. She is here. She is the inspiring cause of much, if not all, of this work; and I wish to present her to you, as I believe she is worthy of emulation, and I believe she will compare favorably with the ideals of other times. She is not drawn from imagination, she is a living, breathing reality, and while I must admit that I have failed to find all of her qualities in many women, she is in the main drawn sufficiently from life to convince us of her existence. She is only here and there among the crowds, but if we search for her we may find her. She is not on exhibition, as I intimated before; she is no genius, and the kind of work she does is not susceptible of statistics or exposition. In the lecture-room she is more often on the benches than upon the stage, and only among her friends is her true worth fully known. None of the superlatives are required to describe her, but when she is once known and fully understood she can always be counted on. She is neither young nor old, she may be rich or poor, plain or beautiful; these are accidents she is in nowise responsible for-but she has a beauty of soul which shines out of her face and makes her seem lovely. Time has not hardened her nor has he passed her by unmarked. She is not overpopular with the world. She cannot train with every passing wind of doctrine, her convictions are strong and she changes them only upon the most unquestionable proof that they are untenable. She has been to school in the great world and is a part of it. Not from choice, nor from the realization of broader opportunities for women but through stern and bitter necessity. She has learned the great lessons of life under a discipline as unflinching as that of the German army. She long since realized that the greatest good she could do the world was to find the place she was fitted for and to fill it to the best of her ability. She understands herself, is well poised and ready for emergencies. She is not easily diverted from the great purposes of life and devotes herself with great fidelity to the pursuit of her chosen avocation. She realizes that the great drawback to the success of woman in the higher professions, as well as in the less skilled callings is the lack of permanency. And herein is the great secret of absolute equality between the sexes. It is useless to talk of equal work and equal wages until women do give equal work. And we are sure that so long as work is made only a convenient stepping-stone instead of the great object of life, women do not and will not give a service as satisfactory as men do. And I maintain that she may do this without sacrificing any of her higher interests, or the interests of those whom affection or relationship may have made her responsible for. Indeed, all the interests of her life may be adjusted to those of her profession without loss to any.

She does not depend for her success so much upon her knowledge of the amount of gray matter she has in her brain as she does upon the faithful performance of each day's duties. Industry, punctuality and a keen intelligence of the subject matter are more important factors in her work than her influence or a diploma. In work she knows no sex, and while she recognizes the necessity for many such distinctions now, she hopes that if she lives to see another World's Fair there will be no Woman's Building, no woman's separate exhibit, but men's and women's work exhibited together, held up to a common standard and rated only upon their merit. This ideal woman is intensely human. She is conscious that whatever else she may be, she is first of all a human being, with all the desires and limitations, with all the faults and aspirations, with all the virtues and failures that are common to the human family. She asks for herself only that which she is willing to concede as right for everyone else.

She has learned to look for and find the soul of goodness in things evil, the element of truth in things erroneous; her greatest quality, the spirit of justice which animates her. She takes reason, not sentiment, for her guide; she requires facts, not feelings, to persuade her; she condemns none, but seeks to find some cause of justification for all. If man's inhumanity to man makes countless millions mourn, she knows that woman's inhumanity to woman is death to millions more. She has ceased to complain of the cruelty of man to her sister woman, for she knows that doubly refined is the cruelty of women to those of her own sex. It is impossible for any man to inflict upon a woman the bitter injustice, the intensity of suffering that is possible for a woman. In warfare men may be cruel to each other, but in peace and among the ordinary types of men there is a freemasonry of spirit, a fraternity of interest which is rarely found among the higher types of women. The sisterhood of woman is talked of, but seldom realized among women, and it is a part of the lifework of my ideal woman to cultivate and extend this spirit of kindliness and courtesy which goes so far to sweeten and soften the dreariest pathway. She has a sister's heart for all women. None are outside the pale of her sympathy and her compassion. She believes with Olive Schriner that "true holiness is infinite compassion for others." She is not dilettante; she is earnest. Life is serious with her. She has learned that society at its best is the science of living together in harmony; she believes that the mission of woman is to bring the feminine side of humanity into the world. We have been too long dominated by one sex. She does not desire, however, that we should be dominated by the other. The tyranny of woman would be as oppressive as the tyranny of man. The day of muscular force is gone, the day of nervous force has come, and with it has come the works of peace, the hum of industry and the need of women in the outside world-not because she has chosen to enter the field heretofore supposed to be the field alone of men, nor because she has been influenced by others to change so radically the ordinary tenor of woman's way, but because the great unseen forces of life, aching unconsciously, have brought her there, and she appreciates now the importance of her mission. Her journey was begun with as great a reluctance as ever the children of Israel felt on leaving the fleshpots of Egypt for the wanderings in the wilderness; the luxuries of slavery seemed so much more desirable, even with the sure promise of the milk and honey of freedom, and when we know there are days and years of dreary wanderings in the wilderness, it is no wonder that many stand back appalled and decide to remain-and it is all right for them. Only the man or woman who has faith can ever hope to reach the promised land.

My ideal woman is essentially a domestic woman in the broadest sense. It is impossible to my mind to conceive of a woman of high type as the woman without a home. If she has but one room she will make a home of it, and it will shine forth as the expression of her own individuality. It is the garden in which she grows herself. It is the one great distinguishing difference between men and women, and in behalf of my ideal woman, my woman of the world, I believe she is more devoted to the idea of home than many of the women of the old régime. And I believe that I can assert without fear of contradiction that hotels and boarding-houses are patronized proportionately more by women who are supported by their husbands or fathers than they are by women who support themselves. And further, I believe that every woman whose mind has been broadened by contact with the world is a better housekeeper, knows better how to keep the wheels of the domestic machinery oiled than the woman who never goes outside of the four walls of her home. She manages her household with the same kind of sagacity that a business man manages his factory or his count- ing room, one of the first essentials of which is to employ the best help she can find, pay them what their services are worth, trust them, and never nag them. As to the children, it is a wise woman who knows when she is not fitted to raise her own children. On the other hand, if she is so fitted, that is her profession, and she may make its practice remunerative by taking the children of some woman in other professions and for a consideration raising those children. In fact, no more changes will be required in the adjustment of the domestic relations to professional life than the same changes necessitated in the readjustment of economic conditions in other fields now so rapidly taking place. It resolves itself into a question of division of labor, and will naturally settle itself as it is being settled every day by the need that every woman finds of doing the best she can for each day. When women find that by education and training they are worth in some trade or profession twenty dollars to fifty dollars per week, they will not be willing to spend their lives as nurse girl at three dollars per week and board, when for that sum or less or more they can engage the services of a special kindergarten teacher who will undoubtedly train their child more carefully than they can. This may seem a heresy to those who have believed from time immemorial that a mother's first duty was to her children, but I am sure that when we look about us and find. how very badly most of mothers do raise their children, my statements may be taken into consideration at least, and I am sure a thoughtful examination of my proposition will demonstrate its correctness. I speak with knowledge and from experience when I say that women who have devoted themselves to the professions usually occupied by men have been women who are remarkable for the fidelity with which they have served their homes and their families, and on the other hand women of the clinging-vine type, who faint easily and are afraid of rats, are women who neither keep house well nor raise well-behaved children.

To sum it all up, the more intelligence any one person possesses the better all the work of their lives is accomplished, and by changing that intelligence into broader channels you do not change the nature of the person. Therefore, you men and women who are wise do not check the inspirations of any child or women for broader conditions of life because of any preconceived unfitness for those conditions which you approve. The more she knows and grows physically, mentally and morally, the richer will be her life and the lives of all who are near to her. And now for the last of the qualities of my woman who has come: She is not conceited. She thinks that other people have lived who are as great and good as she is. She does not agree with the correspondent of one of the morning papers who claimed that no ideal man could be found who was worthy of the ideal woman. She thinks supply and demand are about evenly balanced on both sides, and she does not feel at all lonesome. She believes in the survival of the Anglo-Saxon race, and she believes that however many stopping places there may be that race is making for righteousness. She believes in men and women She also believes in that land, on the hills of which walk brave women and brave men hand in hand.

Sources +