Books > The American Woman's Home (1869) > An Appeal to American Women by the Senior Author of this Volume

The American Woman's Home

An Appeal to American Women by the Senior Author of this Volume.

My honored countrywomen:

It is now over forty years that I have been seeking to elevate the character and condition of our sex, relying, as to earthly aid, chiefly on your counsel and cooperation. I am sorrowful at results that have followed these and similar efforts, and ask your sympathy and aid.

Let me commence with a brief outline of the past. I commenced as an educator in the city of Hartford, Ct., when only the primary branches and one or two imperfect accomplishments were the ordinary school education, and was among the first pioneers in seeking to introduce some of the higher branches. The staid, conservative citizen's queried of what use to women were Latin, Geometry, and Algebra, and wondered at a request for six recitation rooms and a study-hall for a school of nearly a hundred, who had as yet only one room. The appeal was then made to benevolent, intelligent women, and by their influence all that was sought was liberally bestowed.

But the course of study then attempted was scarcely half of what is now pursued in most of our colleges for young women, while there has been added a round and extent of accomplishments then unknown. Yet this moderate amount so stimulated brain and nerves, and so excited competition, that it became needful to enforce a rule, requiring a daily report, that only two hours a day had been devoted to study out of school hours. Even this did not avail to save from injured health both the teacher who projected these improvements and many of her pupils. This example and that of similar institutions spread all over the nation, with constantly increasing demand for more studies, and decreasing value and respect for domestic pursuits and duties.

Ten years of such intellectual excitement exhausted the nervous fountain, and my profession as a school-teacher was ended.

The next attempt was to introduce Domestic Economy as a science to be studied in schools for girls. For a while it seemed to succeed; but ere long was crowded out by Political Economy and many other economies, except those most needed to prepare a woman for her difficult and sacred duties.

In the progress of years, it came to pass that the older States teemed with educated women, qualified for no other department of woman's profession but that of a schoolteacher, while the newer States abounded in children without schools.

I again appealed to my countrywomen for help, addressing them through the press and also by the assistance of a brother (in assemblies in many chief cities) in order to raise funds to support an agent. The funds were bestowed, and thus the services of Governor Slade were secured, and, mainly by these agencies, nearly one thousand teachers were provided with schools, chiefly in the West.

Meantime, the intellectual taxation in both private and public schools, the want of proper ventilation in both families and schools, the want of domestic exercise which is so valuable to the feminine constitution, the pernicious modes of dress, and the prevailing neglect of the laws of health, resulted in the general decay of health among women. At the same time, the overworking of the brain and nerves, and the "cramming" system of study, resulted in a deficiency of mental development which is very marked. It is now a subject of general observation that young women, at this day, are decidedly inferior in mental power to those of an earlier period, notwithstanding their increased advantages. For the mind, crowded with undigested matter, is debilitated the same as is the body by over-feeding.

Recent scientific investigations give the philosophy of these results. For example, Professor Houghton, of Trinity College, Dublin, gives as one item of protracted experiments in animal chemistry, that two hours of severe study abstracts as much vital strength as is demanded by a whole day of manual labor. The reports of the Massachusetts Board of Education add other facts that, in this connection, should be deeply pondered. For example, in one public school of eighty-five pupils only fifty-four had refreshing sleep; fifty-nine had headaches or constant weariness, and only fifteen were perfectly well. In this school it was found, and similar facts are common in all our public and high schools, that, in addition to six school-hours, thirty-one studied three hours and a half; thirty-five, four hours; and twelve, from four to seven hours. And yet the most learned medical men maintain that the time devoted to brain labor, daily, should not exceed six hours for healthy men, and three hours for growing children.

Alarmed at the dangerous tendencies of female education, I made another appeal to my sex, which resulted in the organization of the American Woman's Education Association, the object being to establish endowed professional schools, in connection with literary institutions, in which woman's profession should be honored and taught as are the professions of men, and where woman should be trained for some self-supporting business. From this effort several institutions of a high literary character have come into existence at the West, but the organization and endowment of the professional schools is yet incomplete from many combining impediments, the chief being a want of appreciation of woman's profession, and of the science and training which its high and sacred duties require. But the reports of the Association will show that never before were such superior intellectual advantages secured to a new country by so economical an outlay.

Let us now look at the dangers which are impending. And first, in regard to the welfare of the family state, the decay of the female constitution and health has involved such terrific sufferings, in addition to former cares and pains of maternity, that multitudes of both sexes so dread the risks of marriage as either to avoid it, or meet them by methods always injurious and often criminal. Not only so, multitudes of intelligent and conscientious persons, in private and by the press, unaware of the penalties of violating nature, openly impugn the inspired declaration, "Children are a heritage of the Lord."

Add to these, other influences that are robbing home of its safe and peaceful enjoyments. Of such, the condition of domestic service is not the least. We abound in domestic helpers from foreign shores, but they are to a large extent thriftless, ignorant, and unscrupulous, while as thriftless and inexperienced housekeepers, from boarding-school life, have no ability to train or to control. Hence come antagonism and ceaseless "worries" in the parlor, nursery, and kitchen, while the husband is wearied with endless complaints of breakage, waste of fuel and food, neglect, dishonesty, and deception, and home is any thing but a harbor of comfort and peace. Thus come clubs to draw men from comfortless homes, and, next, clubs for the deserted women.

Meantime, domestic service—disgraced, on one side, by the stigma of our late slavery, and, on the other, by the influx into our kitchens of the uncleanly and ignorant—is shunned by the self-respecting and well educated, many of whom prefer either a miserable pittance or the career of vice to this fancied degradation. Thus comes the overcrowding in all avenues for woman's work, and the consequent lowering of wages to starvation prices for long protracted toils.

From this come diseases to the operatives, bequeathed often to their offspring. Factory girls must stand ten hours or more, and consequently in a few years debility and disease ensue, so that they never can rear healthy children, while the foreigners who supplant them in kitchen labor are almost the only strong and healthy women to rear large families. The sewing-machine, hailed as a blessing, has proved a curse to the poor; for it takes away profits from needlewomen, while employers testify that women who use this machine for steady work, in two years or less become hopelessly diseased and can rear no children. Thus it is that the controlling political majority of New-England is passing from the educated to the children of ignorant foreigners.

Add to these disastrous influences, the teachings of "free love;" the baneful influence of spiritualism, so called; the fascinations of the demi-monde; the poverty of thousands of women who, but for desperate temptations, would be pure—all these malign influences are sapping the foundations of the family state. Meantime, many intelligent and benevolent persons imagine that the grand remedy for the heavy evils that oppress our sex is to introduce woman to political power and office, to make her a party in primary political meetings, in political caucuses, and in the scramble and fight for political offices; thus bringing into this dangerous melee the distinctive tempting power of her sex. Who can look at this new danger without dismay? But it is neither generous nor wise to join in the calumny and ridicule that are directed toward philanthropic and conscientious laborers for the good of our sex, because we fear their methods are not safe. It would be far wiser to show by example a better way.

Let us suppose that our friends have gained the ballot and the powers of office: are there any real beneficent measures for our sex, which they would enforce by law and penalties, that fathers, brothers, and husbands would not grant to a united petition of our sex, or even to a majority of the wise and good? Would these not confer what the wives, mothers, and sisters deemed best for themselves and the children they are to train, very much sooner than they would give power and office to our sex to enforce these advantages by law? Would it not be a wiser thing to ask for what we need, before trying so circuitous and dangerous a method? God has given to man the physical power, so that all that woman may gain, either by petitions or by ballot, will be the gift of love or of duty; and the ballot never will be accorded till benevolent and conscientious men are the majority—a millennial point far beyond our present ken.

The American Woman's Education Association aims at a plan which its members believe, in its full development, will more effectually remedy the "wrongs of woman" than any other urged on public notice. Its general aim has been stated; its details will appear at another time and place. Its managers include ladies of high character and position from six religious denominations, and also some of the most reliable business men of New York. Any person who is desirous to aid by contributions to this object can learn more of the details of the plan by addressing me at No. 69 West Thirty-eighth Street. But it is needful to state that letters from those who seek aid or employment of any sort can not be answered at present, nor for some months to come.

Every woman who wishes to aid in this effort for the safety and elevation of our sex can do so by promoting the sale of this work, and its introduction as a text-book into schools. An edition for the use of schools will be in readiness next fall, which will contain school exercises, and questions that will promote thought and discussion in classrooms, in reference to various topics included in the science of Domestic Economy. And it is hoped that a previous large sale of the present volume will prepare the public mind to favor the introduction of this branch of study into both public and private schools. Ladies who write for the press, and all those who have influence with editors, can aid by directing general attention to this effort.

All the profits of the authors derived from the edition of this volume prepared for schools, will be paid into the Treasury of the A. W.E. Association, and the amount will be stated in the annual reports.

The complementary volume of this work will follow in a few months, and will consist, to a great extent, of receipts and directions in all branches of domestic economy, especially in the department of healthful and economical cooking. The most valuable receipts in my Domestic Receipt Book, heretofore published by the Harpers, will be retained, and a very large number added of new ones, which are healthful, economical, and in many cases ornamental. One special aim will be to point out modes of economizing labor in preparing food.

Many directions will be given that will save from purchasing poisonous milk, meats, beers, and other medicated drinks. Directions for detecting poisonous ingredients in articles for preserving the hair, and in cosmetics for the complexion, which now are ruining health, eyesight, and comfort all over the nation, will also be given.

Particular attention will be given to modes of preparing and preserving clothing, at once economical, healthful, and in good taste.

A large portion of the book will be devoted to instruction, in the various ways in which women may earn an independent livelihood, especially in employments that can be pursued in sunlight and the open air.

Should any who read this work wish for more minute directions in regard to ventilation of a house already built, or one projected, they can obtain his aid by addressing Lewis Leeds, No. 110 Broadway, New York City. His associate, Mr. Herman Kreitler, who prepared the architectural plans in this work relating to Mr. Leeds's system, can be addressed at the same place.

Catharine E. Beecher.

New York, June 1, 1869.