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Title: Women and economic evolution

or, The effects of industrial changes upon the status of women

Author: Theresa Schmid McMahon

Release Date: September 20, 2022 [eBook #69021]

Language: English

Produced by: The Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)



NO. 496

Economics and Political Science Series Vol. 7, No. 2, PP. 103-234





Sometime Fellow in Sociology
The University of Wisconsin
Instructor in Political and Social Science, University of Washington


Price, 25 Cents


Entered as second-class matter June 10, 1898, at the post office at Madison, Wisconsin under the Act of July 16, 1894


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NO. 496

Economics and Political Science Series Vol. 7, No. 2, PP. 103-234





Sometime Fellow in Sociology
The University of Wisconsin
Instructor in Political and Social Science, University of Washington




Introduction 5-10
Chapter I. The Status of Women and Primitive Industry 10-19
Chapter II. The Status of Women in Early Historical Times 19-28
Chapter III. The Effects of Industrial Changes Upon the Homes of the Working-Poor 28-37
Chapter IV. The Effects of Industrial Changes Upon the Homes of the Middle-Class 37-49
Chapter V. Women of Leisure 49-57
Chapter VI. Status of Women and Home Industry Among Professional Classes 57-69
Chapter VII. The Effects of Industrial Changes Upon Marriage 69-80
Chapter VIII. Economic Forces and the Birth-Rate 80-88
Chapter IX. Economic Changes and the Divorce-Rate 88-97
Chapter X. The Political Rights of Women and Industrial Changes 97-114
Chapter XI. Conclusion 114-124


[Pg 5]

In dealing with the evolution of home industry and its effects upon the status of women, it will be necessary to note briefly the status of the sexes before marked differentiation took place.

As a matter of fact, we know very little about mankind before the beginning of recorded history. It is true we have various examples of primitive culture existing at the present time, and to a considerable degree they illustrate the different stages of culture through which civilization has passed; but there is no proof that different types of social development have not existed in the earlier periods. These different types may have been out of harmony with the existing environment, and hence were eliminated by the struggle for existence. It does not follow that the eliminated types were inferior to the surviving one, but that they proved less fit in a conflict of certain forces. For instance, a peaceable race has often been at a disadvantage when contending with a warlike and aggressive one, and its institutions have been overthrown in the struggle.

What has been true in the conflict of races may be equally true in a conflict for authority between the sexes, if such a conflict ever existed. In a period of history when severe struggles between peoples were common, feminine rule was not compatible with such struggle.

The commonly accepted theory is that men hold their position of recognized superiority over women by virtue of an inherent superiority; that sexual differences as measured by world achievements are characteristic of all races. This is the androcentric theory which is described by Ward as “the view that the male sex is primary and the female sex secondary in the organic scheme, that all things center, as it were, about the male, and that the female, though necessary to carrying out[Pg 6] the scheme, is only the means of continuing the life of the globe, but it is otherwise an unimportant accessory, and incidental factor in the general result.”[1]

This theory has been accepted as a fact for ages; it has been sanctioned by all religions and by custom. In the minds of many people it had been established as one of the certainties removed from the province of doubt. Indeed, so many facts have been brought forth in proof of this theory that in the past to question it simply invited ridicule.

According to the androcentric theory man alone is responsible for the development of our social institutions, and woman’s progressive evolution has been one of constant adaptation; never one of innovation. “Woman is the lesser man” and her achievements have always been measured by masculine standards.

A new theory has been advanced by Ward which merits careful consideration. He calls it the gynaecocentric theory. It is the “view that the female sex is primary and the male secondary in the organic scheme, that originally and normally all things center, as it were, about the female, and that the male, though not necessary to carrying out the scheme, was developed under the operation of the principle of advantage to secure organic progress through the crossing of strains. The theory further claims that the apparent male superiority in the human race and in certain of the higher animals and birds is the result of specialization in extra-normal directions due to adventitious causes which have nothing to do with the general scheme, but which can be explained on biological principles; that it only applies to certain characters, and to a relatively small number of genera and families. It accounts for the prevalence of the androcentric theory by the superficial character of human knowledge of such subjects, chiefly influenced by the illusion of the near, but largely, in the case of man at least, by tradition, convention, and prejudice.”[2]

Students of primitive history are not agreed as to whether there has ever existed a people among whom women held sway. The tendency is to discredit the evidence offered for the theory[Pg 7] of female rule. If such peoples existed, none have survived to play an important part in history. This fact seems to indicate that, other things being equal, female rule was not compatible with the evolution of our present civilization, if by female rule we mean the recognized superiority of the female sex at a time when authority rested solely in the hands of the successful fighters on behalf of the tribe.

Political power implied the exercise of protection. Hence if women held the balance of power in a primitive community constantly engaged in warfare—success in warfare being the only measure of one’s worth—the insecurity of their lives, and the constant depletion of their numbers would materially affect the increase of numbers within the tribe, and in time weaken the tribe in contending with enemies. Elimination or absorption by other tribes would be inevitable.

Without discussing the theory that woman is by nature conservative while man is variable, it is evident that only the women who clung most tenaciously to custom left offspring. The women who varied from the established order by their radical or individualistic characteristics devoted their lives to a cause, usually of a religious nature, and left no offspring. On the other hand, the most aggressive men were most successful in winning wives and were able to transmit their variable qualities, while less aggressive natures tended to leave no descendants. Therefore, much that is attributed to sexual differentiation may be due in part to an environment favorable to a type; to social institutions more favorable to the survival of conservative females and variable males; to the elimination of those females in whom inherited variable tendencies did not remain dormant.

It is reasonable to believe that in the primitive horde there existed a degree of equality between the sexes, but “at the beginning of the historical period woman was under the complete subjection of man. She had so long been a mere slave and drudge that she had lost all the higher attributes she originally possessed.”[3]

Many forces have played an important part in the evolution of the social status of women. The mother instinct which[Pg 8] prompted women to prefer the interests of their children to their own prevented them from concentrating their attention on activities not directly concerned with the care of the children and made it possible to subject a whole sex to an inferior position, irrespective of their numbers, and to make them apparently contented with their lot.

The beginning of the race was associated with a keen struggle for subsistence. If promiscuity was the earliest form of mating, the greatest burden of support would naturally devolve upon woman and would handicap her when it came to meeting or evading enemies. But if the father of her children remained as a protector, at least while the child was helpless, this handicap would be removed. Whether she was actually provided with subsistence or protected from enemies in the beginning, we know she did receive protection by virtue of her sex before the race advanced very far in its social development. This protection largely exempted her from warlike struggle, but it also deprived her almost entirely of the communal authority that had its basis in such a struggle. What was a gain to the individual woman was a loss to her sex in social position.

The supremacy that one sex, class or race gains over another, does not necessarily arise out of far sighted action, having in view a definite goal. In the early struggle of our race, the loss of power by woman and the gain by man was incidental and not the result of a struggle for authority between the sexes.

The same general principle applied to economic life. Whatever woman gained in the early industrial activities of the race which gave her the right to claim precedence in this field, she lost as industry departed from the hearth.

History does not show women struggling for authority before the domination of machine industry, or struggling to maintain a position which would give them prestige in the tribe or state. It is true women have taken part in some of the great movements and revolutions of society, such as the Crusades, or the French revolution but only when the country in question was thrown into an emotional state, and when all other considerations were pushed into the background by the predominant passion. They have taken part in these struggles, and often[Pg 9] shown greater frenzy than men in their efforts to attain their desired goal. They had not yet learned the lesson of self control forced upon men by their economic struggles. Economic struggles have always brought men into other relationships with their fellow men than the purely social. Such has not been the lot of women.

Industrial changes have played a large part in determining the social, political and economic status of women. It is only since the advent of machine industry that women as a sex have been recognized as a distinct economic factor in our industrial life. Consequently it has been difficult to procure material illustrating the industrial status of women in certain periods of history.

When history mentions women, it is invariably as individuals in their social, religious or political capacities, and not as a class of industrial workers. The reason for this lack of data is that women as a class assumed a passive attitude in the economic and industrial life; and, excepting when forced by necessity, took no aggressive part in the great industrial changes of the time. Invariably they adapted themselves to existing conditions.

If little emphasis is placed in the following pages on the influence of the great moral forces which have played such a large part in the history of our civilization, it is not because these forces are overlooked but because they are not a part of the general theme dealing primarily with the economic.


[1] Ward, Pure Sociology, p. 364.

[2] Ward, Pure Sociology, pp. 296-7.

[3] Ward, Pure Sociology, p. 364.

[Pg 10]


The Status of Women and Primitive Industry

Facts brought to light by ethnologists and anthropologists indicate that our prehistoric ancestors were engaged in a severe struggle for existence. This struggle must have been a keen one when man’s life was filled with fear, when his advantages over other animals were slight, and where climatic conditions were unfavorable to the procuring of subsistence. Undoubtedly his greatest desire was for a sense of security from enemies.

There is a tendency to attribute to primitive man a considerable degree of reasoning power; whereas he acted, no doubt, largely from impulse, and with little concern for the future. Marshall says, “Whatever be their climate and whatever their ancestry, we find savages living under the domain of custom and impulse; scarcely ever striking out new lines for themselves; never forecasting the distant future, and seldom making provision even for the near future; fitful in spite of their servitude to custom, governed by the fancy of the moment; ready at times for the most arduous exertions, but incapable of keeping themselves long to steady work.”[4]

The immediate satisfying of his wants was primitive man’s main thought, and the eliminating of the factors interfering with the gratification of these wants, his chief concern.

He probably would have sacrificed freedom for a greater degree of security, for freedom was something beyond his imagination, and was a mockery to one engaged in so severe a struggle with his environment.

[Pg 11]

Primitive woman had an advantage over man in that her sexual appetite was not so keen. “All females were alike for the male animal and savage. The only selection that took place down to the close of the protosocial stage was female selection. The females alone were sufficiently free from the violence of passion to compare, deliberate, and discriminate.”[5]

This might have given primitive woman the upper hand had she sought authority. But protection, both during the time of pregnancy when her physical powers were impaired, and during the period of lactation was her greatest concern. Maternity was her paramount interest and beyond the needs of her child there was no desire for power.

Naturally out of the relationship existing between protector and protected, arose a recognition of authority in the former. Hence it seems reasonable to believe that the subordination of women to men in early historical times grew out of conditions working no hardship on either sex but affording mutual advantages.

If stress of circumstances was in any way responsible for the superior intelligence of man over other animals, woman would necessarily be the first to develop the quality of foresight, for it fell to her lot to provide for her offspring. The fulfillment of this responsibility was essential to the preservation of the race.

Primitive man and primitive woman could go through long periods of fasting, but not so their children. The mother’s maternal instinct prompted her to supply their wants before her own, while man satisfied his hunger first, and then relegated the remains of his feast to the women and the children. His first instinct was the satisfying of his wants; hers, the satisfying of her offspring’s. Here lies one of the fundamental differences between the sexes; and out of this contrast in self-thought have arisen the marked differences of character commonly designated as feminine and masculine.

If primitive man’s first concern had been to feed his mate, woman would never have become the “mother of industry.”[Pg 12] She might have remained passive in the struggle for subsistence, as she was in the struggle against enemies.

Prehistoric men left the remains of the feast to the women and the children; and when food was scarce the women were forced to seek some means of subsistence other than the hunt afforded. They “climbed up hills for the opossum, delved in the ground with their sticks for yams, native bread, and nutritious roots, groped about the rocks for shellfish, dived beneath the sea for oysters, and fished for the finny tribe.”[6]

Woman was the “mother of industry” and the inventor of most of the early industrial arts. Says Mason, “Women were instructed by the spiders, the nest builders, the storers of food and the workers in clay like the mud wasp and the termites. It is not meant that these creatures set up schools to teach dull women how to work, but that their quick minds were on the alert for hints coming from these sources.... It is in the apotheosis of industrialism that woman has borne her part so persistently and well.”[7]

Students of primitive history have given us vivid pictures of the industrial occupations of women among different tribes; but they depend largely for their material upon examples of these industrial occupations as carried on among tribes existing at present in a state of primitive culture. Nowhere now do we find an illustration of inventive genius on the part of women generally, in a primitive state of culture corresponding to that credited to them in prehistoric times. This may be due to a lack of personal freedom, such as was known to primitive woman, or to the lack of proper incentive stimulating the individual to progress. The latter reason may account for the unprogressiveness or degeneracy of many tribes of the present day.

Following his natural instincts and utilizing his power for their gratification prehistoric man found himself in possession of an authority over woman which he had unconsciously acquired. When once conscious of this power he used it arbitrarily, and perhaps oppressively.

Among peaceable peoples there was little need for the exercise[Pg 13] of authority, either defensively or offensively. That personal services were rendered men by the women does not necessarily signify the services were prompted by fear. It is only where militancy prevails that we find an exercise of authority by men over women which suggests the tyranny of the strong over the weak. But even here the tyranny of the strong members of the tribe over the weak is more noticeable than the tyranny of man over woman. Authority determined the status of the individual or of the sex, but it was only one of the factors determining occupation.

Contemporary tribes of low culture differ widely in the position and occupation of women, but there is sufficient resemblance of work among women generally, to make it safe to say that to the women fall the tasks most compatible with stationary habits of life.[8]

As a matter of choice women would naturally engage in those occupations which centered around the fireside. We do find many instances where owing to the employments of men, or to the habits of migration resulting from a search for food, the women are employed far from the hearth. On the whole, however, the occupations commonly pursued by women freed them from carrying children long distances. Westermarck says that the occupations of men are “such as require strength and ability; fighting, hunting, fishing, the construction of implements for the chase and war, and the building of huts.

On the other hand, the principal occupations of women are universally of a domestic kind: She procures wood and water, prepares the food, dresses skins, makes clothes, takes care of the children. She, moreover, supplies the household with vegetable food, gathers roots, berries, acorns, and among agricultural savages, very commonly cultivates the ground. Thus the various occupations of life are divided between the sexes according to definite rules. And though the formation of these rules has undoubtedly been more or less influenced by the egoism of the stronger sex, the essential principle from which they spring lies deeper.”[9]

[Pg 14]

From necessity women were conservative in their habits since a stationary life was most conducive to the protection and care of offspring. That they should follow those occupations which had to do with the preparation and consumption of food, or with the personal services closely allied to the satisfying of the need for food and clothing, seems natural and reasonable since the children looked to them for those vital services.

It is but a short step from the rendering of personal services to offspring to the rendering of services to a mature man or woman. The performing of services for the father may have been at first voluntary; later it became fixed as a habit and finally established as a custom. This performing of personal services—so conspicuous among peoples of primitive culture, is the basis for concluding the oppression of women. “What is largely due to custom is taken to be sheer tyranny on the part of the stronger sex, and the wife is pronounced an abject slave of her husband, destitute of all rights.”[10]

Our insight into primitive culture shows a state of society in which women held a subordinate position, and where the authority rested primarily with men. The status of women had become fixed by tradition and custom and to depart from it meant ridicule and contempt.

Nevertheless primitive woman seemed content with her lot; and freedom which meant opportunity to struggle against one’s enemies, was not for her a desideration. If she thought at all of her position of subordination—she probably did not—she would have concluded that she was the gainer rather than the loser when she gave up authority in return for protection.

The authority of one sex over the other arose spontaneously and unconsciously by the exercise of the function of protection which in a measure determined choice of occupation. It is true men chose those occupations allowing the greatest versatility and demanding much activity and quickness of motion, and that women were generally barred from them; but hunting and warfare—the two occupations followed by primitive man before the era of pastoral and agricultural life—would have deprived[Pg 15] women of the security and protection so essential to the preservation of the race.

When women accepted the protection of men, the women had a chance to survive and reproduce. But the men were forced to fight and only those survived who were able to overcome the enemy.

Before long women outnumbered men; and the motive responsible for the division of occupation was lost sight of. Protection was sought instead of being voluntarily given, and women surrendered more in proportion as their value decreased in the estimation of men.

As long as the number of men and women was approximately equal, the relations between the sexes were more likely to be based upon mutual interests and sympathy. But when one sex far outnumbered the other, degeneracy set in. Wherever we find primitive peoples engaged in almost constant warfare, women outnumber men and the status of the former is low. Women are apparently willing to be oppressed to win favor in the eyes of their lord and master.

There are no historical facts indicating that women as a class resisted the encroachments upon their personal rights by the men. Few individuals are willing to fight for authority when stimulation is lacking; or to struggle for an abstract right not affecting their habits of life. Women followed the line of least resistance. It led to their oppression, but it suited the conservative habit fostered by maternity, and in a measure offered them greater security at a time opportune from the standpoint of the race.

The fate of women seems less hard when judged by the standards of justice and consideration practiced by men and women alike. “When we learn that where torture of enemies is the custom, the women out-do the men—when we read of the cruelties perpetrated by the two female Dyak chiefs described by Rajah Brooks, or of the horrible deeds which Winrod Reade narrates of a blood-thirsty African Queen, we are shown that it is not lack of will but lack of power which prevents primitive women from displaying natures equally brutal with those of primitive men.”[11]

[Pg 16]

Wherever the militant spirit is absent, there exists greater equality between man and woman, and between man and man. Industrialism in its simple forms is conducive to the spirit of equality; and among those tribes where industry is the chief occupation of the people, and where exploitation of other peoples ceases to be a habit, the position of woman is the best.

A factor not to be overlooked in estimating the status of peoples is the nature of the environment. No matter whether the inclinations of the people foster militancy or industrialism, if the natural environment is unfavorable to the procuring of a steady supply of food, the people is checked in its development by too great odds against it. If the natural environment is so friendly as to supply food without effort on the part of the consumer—as is true of many southern climes—stagnation or degeneracy results from a lack of stimulus to exertion.

What is true of a race or tribe may also be true of women. They show the least physical and mental development where conditions are extremely oppressive; and a moral indifference and indolence where life demands little physical or mental effort for its maintenance.

Irrespective of its immediate cause the oppression of women brings about in time a differentiation of the sexes industrially and especially socially. We have seen among many peoples the assignment of industrial employments to the women and the militant activities to the men; but this division is not a true measure of the degree of subordination of the women. The division of employments is in a measure influenced by the nature of the environment and by the habits and customs having their roots in a natural environment in the distant past. Such a division may originally be based upon woman’s convenience as well as man’s, but probably more often upon that of the latter.

When warfare became a less constant occupation, men entered agriculture, which had been considered women’s own field of work. They did not assume the least skilled part of the work, as does a class of industrial workers when it enters a new field, but chose the occupations most compatible with their inclinations, while women confined their efforts to the more monotonous pursuits. Their work was not necessarily easier[Pg 17] than that of the men, nor were they shielded from those tasks requiring great physical strength.

It is true the work pursued by the recognized superior is considered more honorific than the work done by the social inferior, but the work itself generally requires a greater degree of skill and ingenuity. Such honorific work called for greater application and more energy than women were accustomed to bestow upon their occupations for they were always hampered by the demands of their children. During the agricultural stage, therefore, as in the earlier stage, the women always did the work requiring the least initiative. In time the women were largely superseded in the monotonous out-of-door work by the slave, thus gaining time and energy for the ever increasing indoor occupations. Through slavery “it is certain that a means was ... found of maintaining intact the independent household economy with its accustomed division of labor, and at the same time of making progress toward an increase in the number and variety of wants.”[12]

Women’s position in primitive society has often been mistakenly compared to that of slaves destitute of all authority and personal rights. Personal rights are very precious to the individual when no bond of affection exists making the interests of the master and the slave identical. But just here lies the fundamental difference between the position of women and that of slaves. The relation between master and slave was an economic one while that between husband and wife was personal as well as economic. It called for mutual concessions, the woman most often subordinating her interests and wishes to those of the man, who in turn assumed in many instances the entire economic responsibility.

New labor-saving methods were employed in agriculture, making it possible to meet the increased demand for agricultural products. But not so with the in-door work. New wants arose calling for a greater variety in food and clothing. In all probability the men least able physically were superceded in the field by the more robust, and the former were assigned those household tasks least affected by custom, and most easily[Pg 18] separated from the immediate jurisdiction of the women. Such employment developed the textile industries.

Never in history have we examples of women excelling men in attaining the ideal of the time, whether militant, social or industrial. And if these ideals represented a progressive development of mankind, women have always been far behind. At the present the industrial ideal predominates. Although we know that in primitive times women excelled men in the industrial arts, it was at a time when the militant ideal was the dominant one. The controlling ideal has always been shaped by men and their occupations and always will be shaped by those in authority.

The spirit of the time has corresponded to masculine achievement and women’s progress has been measured by their success in adaptation. It is of little consequence that women excel in industry in a period of military precedence, or socially in an epoch of industrialism, since the standard of measurement is fixed by masculine performance. The ideal to be attained by either sex is always a masculine one.


[4] Marshall, Principles of Economics, I, pp. 10-11. Ed. 4.

[5] Ward, Pure Sociology, p. 360.

[6] Quoted by Thomas, Sex and Society, p. 125.

[7] Mason, Woman’s Share in Primitive Culture, pp. 2-3.

[8] Thomas, Sex and Society, p. 134.

[9] Westermarck, The Position of Women in Early Civilization, The American Journal of Sociology, Nov., 1904, p. 410.

[10] Westermarck, The Position of Women in Early Civilization, The American Journal of Sociology, Nov., 1904, p. 411.

[11] Spencer, Principles of Sociology, I, p. 747.

[12] Bücher, Industrial Evolution, p. 96.

[Pg 19]

The Status of Women in Early Historical Times

The world furnishes many examples of the rise and decline of civilizations before our era. Their art and literature often show social institutions comparing favorably with those of modern times. Almost without exception their decline can be traced to the invasion of people of less culture but greater warlike propensities. The institutions of these warlike peoples are the ones which survived, and upon which rest our modern institutions.

As we have seen the primitive society, militancy favors a greater differentiation of sex status and of work than industrialism. In the primarily industrial nations, men’s and women’s work often overlap, and although we can recognize a sex division of work, the line constantly shifts to the economic advantage of women. In a militant society, the women of the higher classes are often shown a deference unknown in the lower classes, but this deference is not shown them as a sex alone, but because of their relation to those who stand highest in the state. Where the women of the higher classes enjoy rights and privileges other than those reserved to them by the state, they are bestowed upon the individual alone, and not upon the sex in general. They have their basis in family ties making the family a unit in its economic interests, as well as in its social and political interests. No matter how conservative men may be in their attitude toward the political, social, and industrial equality of men and women, their prejudices do not weigh against family interests, or apply to the females of their own families.

Militant types of society have not recognized the political rights of women as women. But for all that their women have often played important roles in history by virtue of the power coming to them through some male relative who was more anxious[Pg 20] to delegate his power to them than to see it pass to strangers, or to men of remoter blood relationship.

In the early, less militant societies we see that certain rights of women were recognized. In Egypt “the husband appears to have entered the house of his wives rather than the wives to have entered his, and this appearance of inferiority was so marked that the Greeks were deceived by it. They affirmed that the women were supreme in Egypt; the man at the time of marriage promised obedience to her, and entered into a contract not to raise any objection to her commands.”[13]

Hobhouse says, “It is very possible that the preservation of relics of mother-right was among the forces tending to the better condition of women in Egypt. These were augmented toward the close of the independent history of Egypt by the rise of free contract and the important part taken by women in the industrial and commercial life. In these relations and in social intercourse generally it is allowed on all hands that their position was remarkably free.”[14]

In Babylonia there were times when women held a position of independence and authority. “The wife could act apart from her husband, could enter into partnership, could trade with her money and conduct lawsuits in her own name.”

Sayce says further, “Women, as well as men, enjoyed the advantages of education. This evidence from the Babylonian contract-tablets, in which we find women appearing, as well as men, as plaintiffs or defendants in suits, as partners in commercial transactions, and as signing, when need arose, their names. There was none of that jealous exclusion of women in ancient Babylonia which characterizes the East of today, and it is probable that boys and girls pursued their studies at the same school.”[15]

Among the Greeks of the Homeric age, women held a position of respect and dignity but in the age of Pericles “little pains were taken with their education. Before their marriage, they managed their households and seldom left their dwellings.”[16]

[Pg 21]

In spite of paternal authority so firmly established by custom all through early history we find individual women conspicuous by virtue of their cleverness, intelligence or charm giving them power in affairs of state. When Rome was at its height, there were men solicitors acting in behalf of women in litigation and in the management of their property. In fact, “the mass of capital which was collected in the hands of women appeared to the statesmen of the time so dangerous, that they resorted to the extravagant expedient of prohibiting by law the testamentary nomination of women as heirs, and even sought by highly arbitrary practice to deprive women for the most part of those collateral inheritances which fell to them without testament.”[17]

The Roman family was absolutely controlled by the father. His jurisdiction extended not only to the women and children of his household but to his grown sons after they had established a household of their own.[18]

The attitude of the law toward a class of men is a fair criterion of their status; but this is not true of the women. Since they do not constitute a distinct class or industrial stratum, law is more apt to reflect their status as determined by tradition and custom, than to determine their status.

Mommsen below says, “Wife and child did not exist merely for the house-father’s sake in the sense in which property exists only for the proprietor, or in which the subjects of an absolute state exist only for the king; they were the objects indeed of a legal right, on his part, but they had at the same time capacities of right of their own; they were not things but persons. Their rights were dormant in respect of exercise, simply because the unity of the household demanded that it should be governed by a single representative.”[19]

Long before legislation took a more enlightened attitude toward[Pg 22] the legal and political rights of women, the old laws relating to women had become antiquated. “Even in public matters women already began to have a will of their own and occasionally, as Cato thought, ‘to rule the rulers of the world.’”[20]

Irrespective of the legal and social status of women, early history shows practically the same division of work between the sexes as in primitive times. If there is any apparent difference, it is in a greater diversity of household tasks for women, and the narrowing of the limits of their out-of-door tasks. Men continue to make inroads upon the increasing industrial work of women without changing the nature of it in any of its essentials.

In Rome within the house “woman was not servant but mistress.” Exempted from the tasks of corn-grinding and cooking which according to Roman ideas belonged to the menials, the Roman housewife devoted herself in the main to the superintendence of her maid servants, and to the accompanying labours of the distaff, which was to woman what the plow was to man.[21]

The characteristic work of the Roman women of the well-to-do classes was practically that of the well-to-do classes of all early civilizations. The work, however, of the wives of the poor was in marked contrast. The Ligurian women “laboured, like the men, at the hardest work, and hired themselves out for the harvest in the neighboring countries.”[22]

History throws little light upon the conditions of the laboring people in early civilization. Although they were the foundation on which society rested, they were considered of no consequence in the development of the state excepting in their capacity as warriors. Hence, our knowledge of the manners and customs of the people must be gleaned from data regarding the well-to-do classes.

Under feudalism, status was well defined and the individual counted for little in the social regime. The position of the lord was based upon military prowess, and he took little or no direct[Pg 23] part in the industrial occupations of the people. The laborer was his property, and the lord in return agreed to protect him. Guizot says, “There was nothing morally common between the holder of the fief and his serfs. They formed part of his estate; they were his property; and under this word property are comprised, not only all the rights which we delegate to the public magistrate to exercise in the name of the state, but likewise all those which we possess over private property; the right of making laws, of levying taxes, of inflicting punishment, as well as that of disposing of them or selling them.”[23]

The serf was in no wise a part of the feudal lord’s family nor did the women of his class experience any of the male chivalry which we are accustomed to associate with this period.

The status of the women of the serfs was little better than that of slaves. The difference between the status of men and women of this class was probably no greater than that between the lord and his wife, but the difference was emphasized in that there was a greater range of abuse on the part of the social superior toward the social inferior where women were concerned.

In the house of the lord “the chief, however violent, and brutal his outdoor exercises, must habitually return into the bosom of his family. He there finds his wife and children, and scarcely any but them; they alone are his constant companions; they alone are interested in all that concerns him. It could not but happen in such circumstances, that domestic life must have acquired a vast influence, nor is there any lack of proofs that it did so.”[24]

The predominance which domestic life acquired among the upper classes during feudal times did much toward elevating the women of these classes to social equality with men.

Although during this period there exists among the people a great difference in the kind of work performed by men and the work performed by women in the higher classes, nevertheless the position of the wife was one of respect, and often one of authority. When the lord was away from home on warlike expeditions the wife assumed at times her lord’s duties.[25]

[Pg 24]

“Women exercised to the full the powers that were attached to the land either by proxy, by bailiffs, or in person. They levied troops, held courts of justice, coined money, and took part in the assembly of peers that met at the court of the lord.”[26]

Parallel with the decline of the feudal system is the rapid growth of towns. Women did not take a conspicuous part in the work carried on in the towns, but that they were not excluded from the industries is apparent when we find them in the trade guilds as early as the fifteenth century. “Labor disputes arose over the questions of wages and piece-work, of holidays, of the employment of women and cheap workers.”[27]

Before the great pestilence of 1348, women were employed as agricultural laborers. Their wages were invariably lower than the wages of men. This difference in wages can be partially accounted for on the ground that there existed a marked difference in the nature of their work. Women as farm hands were employed in “dibbling beans, in weeding corn, in making hay, in assisting the sheep-shearers and washing the sheep, in filling the muck carts with manure, and in spreading it upon the lands, in shearing corn, but especially in reaping stubble after the ears of corn had been cut off by the shearers, in binding and stacking sheaves, in thatching ricks and houses, in watching in the fields to prevent cattle straying into the corn, or armed with a sling, in scaring birds from the seed of ripening corn, and in similar occupations. When these failed, there were the winding and spinning of wool ‘to stop a gap.’ These were the employments not only of the laborers’ wives; the wife and daughters of the farmer took their part in all farm works with other women, and worked side by side with their husbands and fathers. After the ‘black death’, women shared for a time in the general rise of wages, and were seldom paid less than two-pence for a day’s work, a sum not unfrequently paid a woman for her daily work in the fields before the time of the great pestilence. This amount of wages, however, was diminished by one of the statutes of labourers, which required that every woman not having a craft, nor possessing property of her own,[Pg 25] should work on a farm equally with a man, and be subjected to the same regulations as to wages as her husband and brothers, and like them should not leave the manor or district in which she usually lived to seek work elsewhere.”[28]

In the early stages of industry “wool and silk were woven and spun in scattered villages by families who eked out their subsistence by agriculture.”[29]

Often in the sixteenth century the wealthy graziers were clothiers and employed the men and women of the neighborhood to make into cloth the wool raised upon their own lands. “In many districts the farmers and labourers used few things which were not the work of their own hands, or which had not been manufactured a few miles from their homes. The poet Wordsworth’s account of the farmers’ families in Westmorland, who grew on their own land the corn with which they were fed, spun in their own home the wool with which they were clothed, and supplied the rest of their wants by the sale of yarn in the neighboring market town was not so far inapplicable to other parts of England as we might at first imagine.”[30]

With the introduction of machinery the paternal attitude of the master toward the employee disappeared. Since the workman at this time had no political rights the decline of the spirit of paternalism exposed him to easy industrial exploitation.

Under the domestic system of industry the entire family was engaged under one roof in the spinning or weaving of cloth. The spinning was done by the women and children, and the weaving by the men. Often it took as many as six spinners to keep one weaver busy, thus necessitating the employment of the women in the neighborhood when there were not sufficient spinners in the household.[31]

This system of industry was revolutionized by the invention of the spinning-jenny, the water-frame, and the self-acting mule, and the application of the steam engine to cotton manufacture. With the introduction of these inventions into the cotton industry the modern factory system arose. Those employers who[Pg 26] could not compete with the new methods were forced to give up their small domestic factories and seek employment in the towns. In 1811 the agricultural population of England was 35 per cent of the whole, and within twenty years it had declined to 28 per cent.[32]

Before the introduction of machinery, industrial occupations kept pace with increasing wants, but so little progress was made from one generation to the other as to give the impression of a static condition. Class lines were sharply drawn, and all authority rested with those whose property holdings were sufficient to place them with the privileged classes. Their political power increased with their material prosperity but neither political power nor material prosperity fell to the laboring classes. “Except as a member of a mob, the labourer had not a shred of political influence. The power of making laws was concentrated in the hands of the land owners, the great merchant princes, and a small knot of capitalists, manufacturers who wielded that power?—was it not natural in the interests of their class, rather than for the good of the people.”[33]

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century little change was effected in the home life of the people. Many of the houses had “but a single great fireplace.” At the beginning of the nineteenth century came many improvements in household affairs. “The common use of the friction matches after 1830 saved an infinitude of pains to the cook, the workman, and the smoker; instead of the iron pots and Dutch ovens came the air-tight cook stove, an unspeakable good friend to the housewife; for the open fire was substituted the wood-stove, and then the coal-stove, which leaked gas but saved toil and trouble; for the labor of the needle which has kept feminine fingers employed from the time of Penelope, came the sewing-machine, rude enough at first, which revolutionized the making of clothing.”[34]

History shows from the earliest times the employment of women of the higher social classes within doors. Although the women of the laboring classes are employed extensively in the[Pg 27] fields there is always an apparent tendency for them to center their activities about the hearth. The performance of out-door tasks among women is determined as much by their class status as sex status. The outdoor work of women resulted less from the tyranny of one sex over another than from the tyranny of one class over another. Whatever the lot of the women field laborers, the lot of their husbands and brothers was little better.

The difference between the status of men and women is estimated by the nature of their work when engaged in the same general occupation as agriculture. Women seem to be deprived of the element of choice in their work since they perform the most monotonous and uninteresting tasks, and the men perform the work allowing for the greatest play of individuality and skill. How much this division of work is due to differences of authority, and how much to the difference in the assumption of responsibility, is difficult to say. It is certainly more convenient for women not to assume responsibilities for out-door work when they have to care for small children; and what may be attributed to an exercise of authority of men over women, may be due to custom having its basis in convenience. It is interesting to note that in practically all civilized societies women are the first to profit by any change doing away with the necessity of all the members of the family being employed in the field. This fact alone would indicate a common recognition of the necessity of protecting women from the severest work for the good of the race. It may have its basis, too, in the inherent chivalry of man toward woman.


[13] Maspero, Dawn of Civilization, p. 53.

[14] Hobhouse, Evolution of Morals, I, p. 189.

[15] Sayce, Babylonians and Assyrians.

[16] Fisher, The Beginnings of Christianity, p. 199.

[17] Mommsen, History of Rome, II, p. 484.

[18] Mommsen, History of Rome, I, p. 91.

“The grown up son might establish a separate household or, as the Romans expressed it, maintain his own cattle (perculium) assigned to him by his father; but in law all that the son acquired, whether by his own labour or by gift from a stranger, whether in his father’s household or in his own, remained the father’s property.”

[19] Mommsen, History of Rome, I, p. 93.

[20] Mommsen, History of Rome, II, p. 484-5.

[21] Mommsen, History of Rome, I, p. 89.

[22] Durny, History of Rome, I. Sec. 1, pp. 54-55.

[23] Guizot, History of Civilization, I, pp. 92-93.

[24] Guizot, History of Civilization, VI, p. 91.

[25] Green, Town Life in the Fifteenth Century, p. 264-5.

[26] Ostrogorski, The Right of Women, p. 2.

[27] Green, Town Life in the Fifteenth Century, II, p. 88.

[28] Denton, England in the Fifteenth Century, pp. 219-220.

[29] Toynbee, The Industrial Revolution, p. 15.

[30] Toynbee, The Industrial Revolution, p. 181.

[31] Cheyney, Industrial and Social History of England, p. 206.

[32] Toynbee, The Industrial Revolution, p. 88.

[33] Toynbee, The Industrial Revolution, p. 186.

[34] Hart, National Ideals Historically Traced, pp. 188-189.

[Pg 28]

The Effects of Industrial Changes Upon the Homes of the Working Poor

Under the domestic system of industry the lord or the master assumed a moral responsibility for the welfare of his working people. It was his recognized duty to care for them when in distress. Although this system of industry centered great power in the hands of a few, and admitted of great abuse, it relieved the workman of a sense of responsibility for the future. With the introduction of machinery, this protection afforded by the master ceased along with the servitude of the worker. A prop was removed from the working people as well as a weight. The immediate result was almost disastrous.

Under the old domestic system there was little encouragement of individual initiative, and the routine of life was subject to few, if any, disturbances that thrust great responsibilities upon the individual. Initiative was a characteristic of the master but the poor worker was taught obedience from the cradle. He was never stimulated nor encouraged to start out on a new line for himself. In other words, he and his family were protected from the uncertainties and responsibilities imposed upon the modern workman. His standard of living was necessarily low. Hunger was not unknown, but it was apt to be a hunger common to all in his class, and so seemingly inevitable, rather than a hunger endured by his family because of his failure in the every day industrial struggle.

The cheapened cost of production of machine industry played havoc with the small domestic manufacturer. His employees were forced into the cities to compete for work at the machine a new experience which was markedly reflected in the homes of the workers. The industrial conditions of the domestic workers in England when forced to compete with machine industry, were similar to those pictured by Dawson when he says of Germany,[Pg 29] “the condition of the house workers in most country districts is lamentable, and in towns it is not much better. It would, indeed, be difficult to exaggerate the misery which has for years been the lot of this class of workers. There, as in Silesia, a hand-weaver is glad to earn 5s. or 6s. for work which occupies nine days of from sixteen to eighteen hours (less than a halfpenny per hour), while his wife toils six hours a day for three weeks to complete a web which will bring her an equal sum, the problem how to make ends meet suggests to the social economist many reflections.”[35]

The bringing together of laborers into industrial centers deprived them of the use of land for agricultural purposes. This increased the laborer’s dependence upon industrial conditions, and upon his employer. His employer was now an individual tending to be indifferent to his employe’s well-being and considering him only as so much labor power to be utilized for his advantage.

The laborer found his relations to his new master purely economic, and he himself responsible for his personal welfare and the welfare of his family. His sickness and misfortune, though of social importance, was no longer of economic importance to his employer since the supply of labor equalled or exceeded the demand for it.

A few individuals profited by the breaking down of class barriers, and asserted an individuality in harmony with economic conditions. But the bulk of the people, either from sheer inefficiency or lack of opportunity failed to get a foot-hold and constituted a class easily exploited by the more successful.

The literature of the period of transition pictures vividly the sufferings endured by the families of the workers. The poverty and misery of thousands resulting from the adjustment to machine industry appealed to all classes of society, and while the essayists and novelists made a pathetic appeal to the general public, the economists attempted in vain to suggest some alleviation for the existing distress.

The poorest class of workers was composed largely of persons[Pg 30] who were highly skilled in the handicraft stage, but were now forced into occupations requiring little training, and open to labor formerly considered inefficient. Not only was the number of persons needed to turn out the finished product much smaller than formerly, but the work formerly done by men could be done by women and children.

The labor of women was in greater demand than that of men. “In 1839, of 31,632 employees in the worsted mills, 18,416, or considerably more than half, were under eighteen years of age, and of the 13,216 adults, 10,192 were women, leaving only 3,024 adult men among more than 30,000 laborers.”[36]

Although cheap labor lowered the cost of production, it did not benefit the laborer who helped to bring it about, for his standard of consumption was below that which his production represented. His work supplied a higher demand than that of his class, and what was his loss was another’s gain. The greatest benefit of cheapened production fell to those classes not depending for their living upon their manual work, or, who received good wages by virtue of the demand for their skill.

Nowhere are the degenerating possibilities that lurk in industrial changes more plainly seen than in the homes of the unskilled workers in England early in the nineteenth century. With the introduction of the factory system the home in many cases became merely a place to sleep and eat. Miss Orne pictures the home life of poor families where man and wife are employed.

In the chain, nail and bolt making industries man and wife stood over the same forge, doing practically the same work for they often exchanged work to break the monotony of their toil. But the wife “took care of the home in addition to factory work.”

The married women appear to be as numerous as the unmarried. There is a general custom in the district for boys and girls of 17 or so to marry, and for each to continue at work, living in the homes of their respective parents. Older married[Pg 31] women are generally found in the small workshop of the husband or some near relation.[37]

With few exceptions the “homes belonging to women who work either in factories or home work shops are very nearly desolate. The meals consist of bread and butter and tea, with a little cold bacon for dinner. The tea is made from a kettle heated at the forge, and thus the cares of the housekeeping are reduced to a minimum. There is no knowledge of cooking, and therefore no variety of diet. The children troup into the workshop as they come from school, and in fact, there is no home life at all.”[38]

Such homes are typical of workers where the husband and wife are compelled to enter the factory in order to feed and clothe themselves and their children. Many of them are ignorant—possess little authority and are indifferent to the exercises of the authority they do possess. Their work does not allow them sufficient energy nor do the financial returns afford them the needed nourishment for a healthy body and mind.

What is true of England is true of all countries where modern methods of industry are practiced, and where the state has not taken steps to check the evils arising out of the system.

Gohre, who has made a careful study of a large manufacturing establishment in industrial Saxony says, “Think for a moment of the incomes and the homes of the working men as I have described them; under such conditions it becomes almost impossible for the average man to realize the beautiful old Christian ideal of the family, about which we hear so much from the pulpit, let him try as he may * * * Think how the daily struggle for existence often compels the daily absence of both parents from the home, as well as the presence of strangers in the household, sometimes coarse and lawless people, and how this must interfere with any sort of regular training of the children.”[39]

Keeping boarders and lodgers—especially lodgers—is a common method of increasing the income of the family. High[Pg 32] rent imposes upon them the necessity of resorting to some measure to increase the income of the family above that which represents the remuneration of the father for his daily toil. The burden of keeping boarders and lodgers falls upon the wife, but this source of income is seldom added when estimating the amount contributed by the wife to the family income.

Many of the evil effects of mothers being employed in factories is apparent to all, but the crowding of the home with strangers is no less disastrous to family life. The economic goal is the only possible one and the family loses its ethical purpose. The Pittsburgh Survey emphasized the effect of overcrowding the home. “As half of the family use the kitchen for sleeping, there is a close mingling of the lodgers with the family which endangers the children’s morals. In only four instances were there girls over fourteen found in the families taking lodgers, but even the younger children learn evil quickly from the free spoken men. One man in a position to know the situation intimately, spoke of the appalling familiarity with vice among children in these families.”[40]

In the city of York, England, the wages paid for unskilled work are often insufficient to provide food, shelter, and clothing for a family of moderate size, “in a state of bare physical efficiency.” Of the income of those families receiving less than 18s weekly the women contribute 50 per cent and the men 8 per cent. The small proportion contributed by the men of the household is due to a large number of families in which the father is either dead or sick. Where the income is 18s and under 21s per week and the family of a moderate size the male heads of the family contribute 76 per cent and the female head of the household 13.3 per cent. With the increase of the weekly earnings of the men, women contribute less and less.[41]

The investigation of Mr. Rowntree shows conclusively that married women of the poorest classes do not engage in industry outside the home for the sake of pin money. They work because circumstances compel them to do so, and just as[Pg 33] soon as the economic pressure is somewhat relieved married women remain in their homes.

The statement is made in Women’s Work and Wages, that “Nearly all the home makers who answered the question as to why they worked gave one of three reasons. The most frequent was that the husband’s wages were either too small or too irregular to keep the home. Fifty-two per cent gave their answer in many varying forms, of which a frequent one was, ‘It is all very well at first, but what are you to do when you have three or four children like little steps around you?’”

“Others had worked all their lives; if the husband is a labourer earning at best 18s. per week and liable to many weeks without work, no other course seems possible.”[42]

Miss Collet says, “I have never yet come across a married woman in the working classes with such eagerness for pocket-money that she would work for it at the rate of 1/2d or 1d an hour. Whenever I found women who said they worked at very low rates they have been working for their living and for that of their children; their husbands have always been men disabled or out of work.”[43]

Frequently the wife of the unskilled worker does not go to the factory; her work is brought to her in her home. This is a great convenience to her for it enables her to remain with her children who are often too small to be left alone and it is impossible to take them to the factory. “The women who take work home from ware-houses, factories, or sub-contracting agents are, with comparatively few exceptions, married or widowed, if we exclude from consideration that large class described as dressmakers or seamstresses. The home workers are to be found in every grade of society among the wage-earning class; in the home of the middle-class clerk and in the room of the dock laborer; rarely, I think, in the tradesmen class, where wives can add to the family income more effectually by assisting in the management of the shop.”[44]

The taking of work into the home is to the advantage of the[Pg 34] employer as well as to the immediate advantage of the employee. It saves the employer rent and tools and procures him cheaper labor. Women can afford to work for less under their own roof when it is a question of working for less or not at all. These women do not often compete with men, for their work is the poorest paid and the least skilled. Few men compete with women in the lower grades of work unless they are physically unable to compete with men for the better kinds of employments. On the other hand women usually perform some branch of work which is wholly abandoned to them by the men and they refrain, whether willingly or not, from engaging in the branches monopolized by their male rivals.[45]

The advantages of cheap production do not often fall to this class of laboring women. Says Mrs. Campbell, “The emancipation of women is well under way, when all underwear can be bought more cheaply than it is possible to make it up at home, and simple suits of very good material make it hardly more difficult for women to clothe herself without thought or worry, than it has long been for men. This is the word heard at a woman’s club not long ago, and reinforced within a week by two well-known journals edited in the interests of women at large.”

The emancipation on the one side has meant no corresponding emancipation for the other; and as one woman selects, well pleased, garment after garment, daintily tucked and trimmed and finished beyond any capacity of home sewing, marveling a little that a few dollars can give such lavish return, there arises, from narrow attic and dark, foul basement, and crowded factory, the cry of the women whose life blood is on these garments. Through burning scorching days of summer; through marrow-piercing cold of winter, in hunger and rags with white faced children at their knees, crying for more bread, or, silent from long weakness, looking with blank eyes at the flying needle, these women toil on, twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours even, before the fixed task is done.[46]

After a careful study of one of the thickly populated working[Pg 35] districts in New York, Mrs. More says, “As the children grow older and require less of her care at home, the mother takes in sewing or goes out washing, secures a janitor’s place, cleans offices, and does whatever she can to increase the weekly income. She feels this to be her duty, and often it is necessary, but frequently it has a disastrous effect on the ambition of the husband. As soon as he sees that the wife can help support the family, his interest and sense of responsibility are likely to lessen, and he works irregularly or spends more on himself. There are, of course, many families in which this united income is needed, when the man’s illness or incapacity makes it imperative for the wife to help. Sometimes it is due to thrift and ambition to save money for the future, or for some definite purpose. Charitable societies generally deplore the prevalence of this custom because of its economic and moral results on the head of the family.”[47]

The British Board of Trade, in its report on French towns, says: “With regard to the wives’ earnings it may be observed that their importance is not limited to the towns in which textile industries predominate. In 51 per cent of all the families from which budgets were obtained the wives were contributors; the proportion was highest at Rome (a town largely dependent on the cotton trade,) where it was no less than 82 per cent.” Of Germany the report says, “A large proportion of the home workers are married women, who in this way seek to supplement the earnings of the chief bread-winner, and are only able to devote odd hours to the work. How largely the custom of home working is a result of poverty may be concluded from a statement made in a memorial lately addressed to the Berlin Tramway Company by its employees. The tramway employee is unfortunately unable to dispense with the earnings of his wife, even in normal domestic conditions, if he would maintain his family properly. The wife has really no choice in the matter. So, too, of 2,051 municipal employees interrogated on the subject in 1905. 416 or 20.2 per cent replied that their wives worked[Pg 36] for money, 170 at charring, 161 as home workers, and 17 in factories, and 68 in other ways.”[48]

In spite of their economic independence the status of the women among the working poor is lower than the status of the women of any other social class. They suffer more from oppression, and their position is little higher than that of the women of the Australia aborigines among whom man has the power of life and death over his wife and children. It is true, the state restricts the power of the husband over the wife and secures for her certain personal rights the Australian savages are ignorant of, but she has a new master in modern industry which virtually exercises over her a power of life and death untempered by sympathy and mutual interest. Degeneracy and elimination such as was never known in primitive society would result if the more fortunately situated economic classes did not interfere.


[35] Dawson, German Life in Town and Country, p. 50.

[36] Cheyney, Industrial and Social History of England, p. 287.

[37] Orne, Eliza, Conditions of Women in the Nail, Chain and Bolt Making Industries.

[38] Ibid, p. 574.

[39] Gohre, Three Months in a Workshop, p. 190.

[40] Charities and Commons, Feb. 6, 1909, p. 916.

[41] Rowntree, Poverty, A Study of Town Life, pp. 39, 54.

[42] Cadbury, Edward; Matheson, M. Cecile; Shann, George. Women’s Work and Wages.

[43] Booth, Life and Labor of The People, IV, p. 801.

[44] Booth, Labour and Life of the People, IV, p. 295.

[45] Webb, Problems In Modern Industry, p. 75.

[46] Campbell, Prisoners of Poverty, pp. 30-1.

[47] More, Wage Earners’ Budgets, pp. 83, 87.

[48] Cost of Living in French Towns, 1909, p. XVI; Cost of Living in German Towns, 1908, p. 11.

[Pg 37]

The Effects of Industrial Changes Upon the Homes of the Middle-Class Workers

The middle class worker is a worker whose remuneration is sufficient to allow him to maintain a plane of living commonly considered adequate for his physical well being.

His employment is not necessarily in the skilled trades, for many of the skilled workers are kept on a margin of bare subsistence, while many unskilled workers are able to enjoy a considerable degree of comfort. So much depends upon the economic conditions of a country or section, and the demand for and supply of labor that a classification according to occupation or remuneration would not be feasible.

In congested cities where the cost of living is high, employment uncertain, and labor plentiful, the unskilled worker frequently finds it impossible to live and enjoy the simple comforts and decencies of life. On the other hand, in newly settled communities, where labor is scarce and opportunities many, the unskilled worker is often able to accumulate property and to give his children advantages usually confined to the prosperous business class in a large city.

Hence, in discussing the middle class worker, he will be considered as a man having sufficient pay, irrespective of his occupation, or the occupation of his family to enjoy a plane of living generally accepted as necessary to a normal and healthful life.

Peoples that make any progress constantly press toward an ideal. This ideal is the standard—so to speak—accepted by all classes to a certain extent, reflected in the schools, churches and all other social institutions. It is a part of the spirit of the age. To judge a class by any other standard, to expect its members to embrace the ideals held by their ancestors because[Pg 38] we think it more in keeping with their financial circumstances, is as unfair as it is illogical. It is expecting of others what we feel no one has a right to expect of us. To share in the benefits of our social institutions and the advance they make from year to year is a right claimed by all irrespective of class, that a woman no longer “contented with bare floors and tin dishes,” or even ingrain carpets and porcelain, or a blue calico gown and white apron for an afternoon social function, does not signify she is losing her sense of the fitness of things but that she no longer lives in an age of bare floors and tin dishes and that she too has through imitation shared in the rise of material standards. When a class departs from a seemingly sensible course, it is more often a joining of the procession of imitators and if the example is not worthy of imitation, the fault is further up the line.

The middle class worker has as his goal the social class just ahead of him. He is following a standard he did not establish, but he must go with the current or drift back. One cannot long stand still.

In the last chapter was discussed a class of workers who have little, if any, freedom in the choice of a plane of living. Their poverty is so great that outside of the civilizing forces afforded by the community, gratis to all, they merely exist. We now come to a class of workers who possess those qualities of character which determine the type of civilization of a country and from whom have come the progressive movements tending toward the general uplift of humanity. They are the real fighters. They stand on a side hill and fight both ways—fight to keep from being shoved down the hill and to gain an inch on the upgrade. They are neither exclusively the victims nor the beneficiaries of the economic regime.

The home of the middle-class worker contains all the elements of change characteristic of the age, and the success or failure of the breadwinner in the economic struggle determines the degree to which these elements are developed. To apply a test to their respective values would be unfair unless the same test were applied to the families of the higher social classes. What will be attempted will be to trace the influence of economic[Pg 39] changes upon the home and the resulting change in the status of the wife.

Whatever struggle the workingman engages in involves the destiny of those dependent upon him for subsistence. His success determines their plane of living, and their interests are identical with his. In no other class do we see the home so complete an economic unit. The individual is often completely lost sight of in deference to the family interests. There is a recognized division of work between the husband and wife. The common object is the economic well-being of the family, and although there may not be sufficient economic liberty to enable them to choose the work most congenial, they gain by the increased strength brought about by their close co-operation.

The husband offers his services for money; the wife remains at home administering to the needs of the family. Her work is of a productive nature satisfying the primary needs of those about her. She prepares the food for consumption, makes the clothing for the family and engages in numberless pursuits—all of which have real economic value to the family. This is the prevailing ideal of the middle class family of today, but like many other social ideals is found only under the most favorable conditions. We find it in many rural communities, or communities half urban and half rural. Much depends upon the extent to which manufacturing is carried on in the vicinity, the facilities for transportation and the price of the commodities brought into the home as substitutes for the wife’s handiwork.

In countries where labor is cheaper than the use of machinery, the home has retained its function as a center of production. Under such circumstances life is simple and wants necessarily few. In some communities women still do all the spinning and weaving, the making of the clothing, and the preparation of all foods for consumption. This type of family especially when it owns the ground it occupies, represents a self-sufficing economic unit, such as was characteristic of the period of domestic industry before the era of machinery.

In the early colonial days of the United States many homes[Pg 40] represented the best of European civilization in their culture and ideals. But economically they represented an earlier industrial stage. Specialization and co-operation were not practiced, and all the hardships were felt that characterized a domestic system of industry. A farmer said in 1787 “At this time my farm gave me and my whole family a good living on the produce of it, and left me one year with another one hundred and fifty silver dollars, for I never spent more than ten dollars a year which was for salt, nails, and the like. Nothing to eat or wear was bought, as my farm provided all.”[49]

Undoubtedly the duties of the farmer’s wife differed little from those of the German woman in the 18th century whose husband lauded her in the following words. “Our cheese and butter, apples, pears, and plums, fresh or dry, were all of her own preparation.... Her pickles (fruit preserved in vinegar) excelled anything I ever ate, and I do not know how she could make the vinegar so incomparable. Every year she made bitter drops for the stomach. She prepared her elderberry wine herself, and better peppermint than hers was found in no convent. During all our married life no one brought a penny-worth of medicine from the apothecary”....[50]

The introduction of the factory product into the home was a slow process, and was stubbornly resisted. If it were left to choice we would still be clinging to the home-made article with a tenacity more creditable to our conservatism than our judgment. Fortunately, necessity forces men to change their habits. At present many of the occupations followed by our grandmothers have left the home for all time, and we have become reconciled to the change.

Whatever changes have taken place in the home are reflections of changes taking place outside the home. When war ceased to be the occupation of all men a large amount of productive energy was released and woman’s sphere of activities became more limited. She was probably just as busy as when the field work fell to her lot, and her work was equally productive. What really took place was the gratification[Pg 41] of a wider circle of wants. When the field had its quota of workers, there was a surplus of male labor to be applied to the indoor work. As we have seen in an earlier chapter, men again invaded woman’s field of work and assumed industrial occupations formerly associated with the fireside. It was not long before there was a marked change in the industrial unit, but in spite of the fact that men performed a great deal of indoor work when the home was a diminutive factory, the family group lost none of its compactness. Practically all the needs of the family were supplied by its own individual workers.

Soon man learned the advantage of the division of labor. He gave certain portions of his work to be done by his neighbor, and this portion tended to constantly increase. It was not long before he had but one occupation and it alone did not produce a finished product. It still had to be passed on to another worker before it was ready for consumption. This division of labor necessitated a medium of exchange. He received money for the large supply of goods he produced over and above his family needs, and with this money he purchased those articles which he and his family formerly produced on their own plot of ground and under their own roof.

How about woman’s work? Instead of producing more of a kind, as the men did, she produced the same amount, and the leisure falling to her lot by virtue of certain industries being taken out of the home was applied to new forms of production. She was just as busy as ever. There arose a greater variety of wants and it was for her to satisfy them.

The process might have gone on from generation to generation with no marked change except a progressive one. The wife might continue to work in the home, and as her productive employments departed to the factory she might substitute others. Wants of a higher nature would demand her constantly increasing time. But what did happen was that the factory constantly made inroads upon the work of the home while the money income of the family remained unaffected.

The income of the family did not tend to increase in the same proportion as the cost of maintaining the accustomed plane of living. This forced men into combination for self protection, these combinations taking the form of trade-unions.

[Pg 42]

The women who followed their work into the factory were the least fortunate. It was only where the men had lost their footing in the economic struggle that the women offered their services outside of the home for a wage. They were the least efficient workers, and least able to protect themselves from a ruthless exploitation. The women who remained at home were the more fortunate in their matrimonial relations, for their husbands were still able to provide for their families, and the family social group was not disturbed. The women continued to can their fruit and to make their garments. The home was not less a home than under the old domestic system of industry but more a home, for the number and variety of wants had increased and the standard of living had been raised.

Thus we see that the industrial evolution has had one of two effects upon the homes of the working class. It has forced thousands of women and children into the factories, many of whom make up the ranks of the “submerged tenth” or the population in a “slum” district. They were economically the weakest, hence were easy victims of a laissez faire economic regime. Their homes spelled retrogression in the evolution of the race, for they constituted the most unfit type in the industrial evolution.

Those who were not victims of the economic regime benefited, at least in some measure, by the decreased cost of production. The wives of the men who were able, either alone or through trade association, to hold their own in the economic struggle gradually ceased to be drudges. Every time the factory invaded the home to deprive it of one more of its industries, the wife either was forced to follow her work, or gained an increased amount of leisure to be applied in her home as she saw fit. Upon each encroachment of the factory upon the home there followed a weeding-out process and a few more women became wage earners. This process has gone on from decade to decade, and excepting in a few individual cases, women have been helpless in determining their fate. Excepting where they went to the factory they did not affect the economic situation of the time. They adapted themselves to circumstances as best they could, and had no other conception of the economic situation than[Pg 43] that the money income of the family had increased or decreased. At only one period in their lives did they and their parents realize they had a voice in their economic destiny, and that was when they chose their life companions. They appreciated the importance of a competent bread-winner. For this reason man’s economic status has always been important in winning a bride. Indeed many sins of his past have been forgiven because he was able “to make her a good living.”

In the countries of Europe where the evolution of industry has run its full painful course from the beginning, the middle class workers are losing ground. Their numbers have relatively decreased, and as a class they are protesting loudly through their organizations against conditions that make the old ideal of the family well nigh impossible. Many of the single men emigrate to countries offering greater opportunities to working men, thus leaving the young women to win for themselves a footing in the industrial life outside the home. Neither men nor women wish to lose their social status by virtue of failure in the economic struggle, and so they meet the problem separately and on different continents.

Those countries not yet fully exploited profit by the courage and individualism of the north European immigrant. The high price of labor in consequence of its scarcity made possible a plane of living beyond the dreams of the home folks, and with this higher standard of consumption has gone invariably a degree of culture, self improvement, and self confidence which stood them in good stead at a later day. When the community became thickly settled and the old industrial problems arose women did not show the same inclination to go to the factory, or to lower their plane of consumption to meet the decreased income of the family, but sought the professions as avenues for industrial employment. They did not lose social caste and there was a real economic gain. The United States census report of 1900 says “women as a class are engaging more generally in those occupations which are supposed to represent a higher grade in the social scale.” Undoubtedly the next census report will make this still more apparent.[51]

[Pg 44]

The women of the United States have greater educational opportunities than the women of any other country, and when these opportunities are taken advantage of, they show a like inclination with men to desert those employments which call for the least skill, and pay the smallest wage. They assert an independence characteristic of the better classes, and assume they have a right to a social status a little higher than their income permits.

This is especially true of the married women. If they enjoy an option between remaining at home or entering the industrial field, they tend to be more independent as to hours of labor, and the wages they will accept. Free, in a large measure, from pressing economic necessity, they are in a better position to dictate terms than the unmarried women or the men of their class.

And yet these same married women are considered by their employers as desirable workers. They tend to be steadier than their unmarried sisters, and show greater concentration in their work. The secretary of one of the large glove maker’s union said of the factory in which she was employed. “When a good worker marries, her place is kept open for her for several weeks so that she can return within a reasonable time if she so desires. And she nearly always comes.” Not hunger drives her back into the factory, but a preference for the industry in which she has acquired a degree of skill over an industry like housework of which she knows little, and for which she cares less. From a financial point of view, it is cheaper for her to hire some one to perform the distasteful household tasks while she takes her place at her husband’s side in the factory. There is much to be said for the social advantages of her work. Once in the home she loses her old associations and finds herself in an environment which offers little entertainment outside of her romantic dreams. When these vanish she longs for her old companions and reënters the factory which, to her, spells industrial freedom, and a fuller life.

Many wives of the middle class workers are still engaged in work also carried on in factories. The latter have not yet attained that cheapness of production which makes it a waste of time for the housewife to compete with them. But the attractive rates offered by laundries for “plain pieces,” and the bargain[Pg 45] counters in the basements of large department stores produce a sigh of relief and the remark “women have it easier now days than they used to.” Few see the relation between this cheapened cost of production and wages, for the breadwinner in all probability belongs to the skilled trades, and the small wage brought home by the daughter is considered pure gain.

While the home of the poorest paid worker gives no evidence of luxury and the wife’s time is employed in satisfying the wants which have to do with the preparation of food and clothing in their elementary stages, much of the energy of the home maker of the better paid worker is applied to maintaining a higher standard of living.

Wants a century ago were comparatively limited, but under the influence of modern democratic conditions they have increased many fold. They most often take the form of a greater variety of food and clothing, or the satisfying of the spiritual, intellectual and artistic desires. The newspapers, the magazines, the entire business world seem to have entered into a conspiracy to separate the working man from his small savings. Business depends largely upon its success in stimulating the desires of its patrons. Even our educational system makes every effort to stimulate higher cultural desires, which inevitably call for a greater expenditure of money.

These wants spread among the masses with great rapidity, and their gratification depends upon economic resources. The demands are generally felt first in the home. Many women attempt to satisfy them by their labor so that there is little danger of idleness on the part of the homeworker of this class as long as wants of this nature increase more rapidly than the desire for leisure. If their labor has a money value in the labor market it becomes a luxury when performed for their families, which could not afford to pay for these services at a very low cost. Only where the financial means of the families are sufficient to do without the help of the women in providing the necessities of life, can this new standard of life be maintained.

Hand in hand with the expansion of wants must go an increase of the money income of the family unless the cost of production has correspondingly cheapened. If not, the family[Pg 46] is living beyond its means. The income of the family must be increased either by increasing the wages of men or by the wives and mothers entering the industrial field. Since to lower one’s standard of consumption is to lose one’s social status, it is considered far better to engage in some reputable employment outside the home, even though it entails continuous toil from morning until night.

The difficulty is not always met in the same way. In one community it may be perfectly proper for a married woman to continue her stenography after marriage while in another it would entail social ostracism. Often small economies are practiced in the home where no one is the wiser.

In France “the sitting-room is apt to be shut up all the week in the interest of the furniture, and only opened on the single afternoon the lady of the house is supposed to be at home to her friends. Then in winter, just before the hour of reception, the meagre wood-fire is set ablaze, and sometimes tea is prepared, along with biscuits far from fresh. You may be thankful—if tea is to be offered you, a rare occurence—should the tea be no staler than the biscuits.”[52]

We need not go to France for illustrations, for even in democratic America expensive table service does not necessarily imply an abundance of food. Where men’s incomes do not compensate for the decreased economic value of women’s work in the home, the problem is as pathetic as the one faced by the aristocracy of Cranford.

“The present relation of incomes to wants may be seen more clearly in the case of single men and women than in that of families. In the life of both sexes there is a lengthening period between the beginning of the working years and the marriage age, where the standards of the individuals are directly made by their income. Whatever they are they are carried into marriage; if the first epoch is one of advance, the second is likely to be also.”[53]

Of Fall River it is said that “the impulse which makes a married woman continue to work in the mill may be far less urgent[Pg 47] in the economic sense and simultaneously far more urgent in the social sense.” And further on they tell us, “These Fall River women are women of a fine kind. They are highly skilled for women. They are well paid for women. They are intelligent, attractive, ambitious.”[54]

The woman who still “finds plenty to do at home,” and the woman who has become part of the industrial world represent two types of homes common in the middle class. There is still a third. It is the woman who lives in a modern apartment and can take full advantage of all the industrial changes that minimize her work. Probably Patten has her in mind when he says “Once the household industries gave to the staying-home woman a fair share of the labor, but today they are few, and the ‘home-maker’ suffers under enforced idleness, ungratified longing, and no productive time-killing.... Heredity has not been making idleness good for women while it has been making work good for men. Valuable qualities are developed by toil, and women improve as do men under the discipline of rewards.”[55]

Thus we have the three types of women in the middle class and there is a marked difference in the social attitude toward them. The woman who is busy in her home is looked upon as a vanishing type. The idle woman is viewed doubtfully. She is thought of as enjoying a leisure which she, as a member of the middle class is not entitled to. Her idleness weighs more on the social conscience than the idleness of the woman of wealth. And justly so; for her past stands for many of the better things of our civilization which we cherish as ideals, and to see her become an idler is to witness a growing waste of energy which was previously utilized to the great advantage of society. She is already beginning to ask “What can I do?” lest public sentiment should condemn her for her social parasitism.

It is the middle class woman who goes to work—whether married or single—who is arousing her sex from lethargy that threatens race degeneracy. She is taking her place with the men in trying to solve industrial and social problems. Her home life[Pg 48] tends to represent a newer ideal. She often is not only the companion of her husband in the home but in the business world as well; a source of economic strength instead of weakness. What becomes of the children of these families? This question brings up the subject of “race-suicide” which will be discussed in another chapter.


[49] Earle, Alice More, Home Life in Colonial Days, p. 158.

[50] Dawson, Germany and the Germans, Vol. I, p. 96.

[51] United States Census Report, 1900, p. CCXXIII.

[52] Lynch, French Life in Town and Country, p. 188.

[53] Patten, New Basis of Civilization, p. 193.

[54] William Hard; Rheta Childe Dorr, The Woman’s Invasion, Everybody’s Magazine, Nov., 1908.

[55] Patten, New Basis of Civilization, pp. 193-4.

[Pg 49]

Women of Leisure

Many laboring women are benefited by the transition of work from the home to the factory, or the introduction of new industries which were never allied to the home but represent an entirely new venture into the business world. But distinct from these, there is a class of women who reap the benefits of present industrial conditions in a greater or less degree by virtue of their parasitic relations to some man. These are the women “to whom leisure has come unsought, a free gift of the new industrial order.... Never before in the history of civilization have women enjoyed leisure comparable to that which falls to the lot of those in comfortable circumstances in America.”[56]

The new era of industrialism has brought into prominence a large class of successful or partially successful business men whose financial remuneration is sufficient to allow their homes to be adapted to all the industrial changes which lighten household tasks. The husband’s economic importance is often marked, and there is no necessity for the wife to add to the income of the family. She profits by the development of new industries in the business world which supersede those carried on in the home and her demand for the output of the new industry is no small item in determining its success. She is not deterred from trying the new because of the financial outlay it involves. She welcomes the era of canned meats and vegetables; the new uses of gas and electricity, and the application of compressed air for cleaning purposes. She is the household innovator in a conservative society.

She knows that whatever advantage her husband wins in the industrial field, increases the possibility of her leisure rather than his own. For whatever time the business man may gain[Pg 50] for himself, it is most often utilized to increase the volume of his business. By virtue of his success his wife can afford to take advantage of home industry performed by people outside her home. The results are evident. It is no longer necessary to hire a large number of servants in the household to carry on the productive industries. The word servant is rapidly becoming synonymous with menial, for personal services, as household tasks, are being divorced from production.

The compensation for the absence of the servants in the home is the ability to purchase the finished article outside the home.

In the earlier stages of production, few women were idle, for if they themselves were not actually engaged in production within the home, they were called upon to supervise the tasks performed by their underlings. But modern industry has not only freed many women from productive work within the home, but released others from the necessity of managing large households. Responsibility has been shifted from the home to the business world. This shifting of responsibility so apparent in production can be also perceived in those activities which are closely allied to consumption. The business world is no respecter of tradition. Wherever financial opportunity presents itself, business takes hold.

We are accustomed to close our eyes and not admit the possibility of change until it is upon us. Our immediate past presents to us the pleasing spectacle of a domestic wife, her head encircled with a halo. More often this vision is that of mother, the memory of whom is associated with some form of domestic activity. But time makes changes and now the successful business man is expected to shield his wife from all irksome employments; and no matter how much he or his wife cherishes the occupations of the last generation, tradition does not prevent the courting of comfort and leisure when possible. Hence all employments dealing with consumption are willingly transferred to the business world, and the lady of the house becomes indeed a lady of leisure.

Of course there are exceptions. There are families of wealth that persist in clinging to occupations closely allied to the home in the immediate past. The preservation and preparation of foods, the making of all articles of clothing, including hosiery,[Pg 51] are still the work of a few households, and it is clung to with an affection and a loyalty indicating the close mental association of these occupations with the idea of home.

Nevertheless, time continues to bring about an adjustment of family life to economic life. The better-to-do classes tend to flock to family hotels and apartment houses and the new generation laughs at the fears and prophecies of the old. The possibility of a higher plane of comfort at less cost is too much for even the conservative man. He cherishes his ideal of family life, and would gladly enforce it upon society in general, but often he thinks circumstances justify the discrepancy between this theory and his practice. He frequently gives up his separate dwelling, and takes advantage of modern business methods of extensive co-operation. Thus specialization and co-operation are freeing many women from household responsibilities and are bringing about for some the possibility of idleness.

The theory that women have suffered and are still suffering from the tyranny of men does not seem sound when one considers that the women of the well-to-do classes are always the first to benefit by a surplus of leisure. Many men work eight or more hours a day while their wives are not obliged to perform any kind of work. The women’s time is their own and their husbands resent neither their leisure nor their idleness. This indifference on the part of men to the complete economic dependence of women has its basis in sex, out of which arose a feeling of responsibility for the protection of the family, at first from enemies and later from economic cares.

The employments of the women of the leisure class are tersely stated by Veblen when he says of the well-to-do household: “Under a mandatory code of decency, the time and effort of the members of such a household are required to be ostensibly all spent in a performance of conspicuous leisure, in the way of calls, drives, clubs, sewing-circles, sports, charity organizations, and other like social functions. Those persons whose time and energy are employed in these matters privately avow that all these observances, as well as the incidental attention to dress and other conspicuous consumption, are very irksome but altogether unavoidable. Under the requirement of[Pg 52] conspicuous consumption of goods, the apparatus of living has grown so elaborate and cumbrous, in the way of dwellings, furniture, bric-a-brac, wardrobe, and meals, that the consumers of these things cannot make way with them in the required manner without help. Personal contact with the hired persons whose aid is called in to fulfill the routine of decencies is commonly distasteful to the occupants of the house, but their presence is endured and paid for, in order to delegate to them a share in this generous consumption of household goods. The presence of domestic servants, and of the special class of body servants in an eminent degree, is a concession of physical comfort to the moral need of pecuniary decency.”[57]

The status of the women of leisure is social rather than economic. It has its basis in the economic strength of the husband but the social status of the wife is far superior to that of the man of the family.

Although men depend upon their economic strength to give them a social status, they depend upon their wives to maintain it, and willingly surrender to them the reins of authority. Authority in the home among the higher social classes in the more democratic countries rests in the hands of women rather than in the hands of men. This is one of the results of a divorce of the economic life from family life, and the substitution of a social unit for an economic one. The change in itself need not be condemned if the new social unit promotes a higher ethical development of its members than is possible under the old economic regime. But in the leisure class the family as a social unit rarely has as its goal the ethical advancement of its members. Its desire is for prestige in a circle conspicuous for display of material wealth.

Social prestige is closely connected with economic prosperity and only in so far as the social goal has attained an importance greater than the economic, is the authority of women conspicuous. The economic idea is fundamental until a degree of security is attained eliminating the possibility of want. This changed relation so apparent in the United States causes no[Pg 53] little amusement to the foreigners who have not yet accepted feminine rule.

Although the leisure-class women are not conspicuous in demanding political equality, it is no new phenomenon to see them play a significant part in the political affairs of the day. Their influence and support has been sought and is still sought by political aspirants. But upon the whole their ambitions are purely social. They do not challenge the admiration of the saner element of the population but they represent an extreme social type just as many of their fortunes represent an abnormal and unhealthy financial condition. Their principal function is that of conspicuous consumption and dissipation.

With no serious purpose in life degeneracy is bound to be the ultimate result. If it were not for the dormant abilities and capacities for good which exist among the women of the leisure class, and which generate in high society an undercurrent toward better things, their self elimination would be only a question of time. Patten says: “At the present time, excessive consumption of wealth, dissipation, and the vices are destroying successive aristocracies by self-induced exhaustion, and the suicidal group quickly disappears without establishing a line of descent. They continually reform on the old basis and bequeath to society, not sons, but a body of traditions. The present leisure class of America, for instance, is governed by concepts handed down by the continental nobility of an era that recognized no industrial or business man’s ideas.”[58]

Earnest social workers are making a strong effort to utilize this excessive leisure on the part of women, and are attempting to direct it to channels useful to the city, the commonwealth, and society in general.

Any one who has associated intimately with women whose entire time is their own to employ as they see fit, or with women who have a few hours of leisure daily and who represent a large proportion of our prosperous middle class, must be impressed with the fact that there is a great waste of talent, ability, and culture.

“The wives of tens of thousands of business men and well-paid[Pg 54] employees enjoy unquestioningly, and as a matter of course, a degree of leisure such as formed the exclusive privilege of a small aristocracy in earlier centuries. The beneficent social and philanthropic activities of public spirited women and the baneful epidemic of gambling at cards which has run riot for several years and shows no tendency to diminish, are twin offspring of this unearned leisure.”[59]

Although less practical than men because of the almost complete divorce of their mental activities from the duties of life, these women often represent a plane of culture superior to that of the men of their class, and possible only when advantage can be taken of intellectual opportunists, associated with leisure. The women are the ones who are able to attend public lectures and places of amusement during the day; and often they alone have sufficient energy to profit by the intellectual benefits which are offered for the public’s enlightenment. In every college community where free lecture courses are given for the benefit of the public, the audience is characteristically feminine.

A safe measure of the increase of leisure of women of all ages and of the more prosperous classes is our institutions of higher learning. The proportion of young women graduating from the high schools in the United States is greater than that of young men; and if this tendency continues the same will eventually apply to our institutions of higher learning. This has been anticipated by a few of the universities limiting the number of girls who might attend. What might seem to be sex prejudice may be in reality a resistance to an effeminacy, arising out of leisure class standards, which is fondly designated as culture, in contrast to the practical application of knowledge.

The general tendency of young women to seek education for self improvement rather than for practical usefulness indicates that they benefit by the financial surplus of the family. On the other hand, their brothers are expected to prepare themselves at an early age for the industrial field or the world of business. This is giving to the women of the family greater cultural opportunities than to the men. This is most evident[Pg 55] where girls consider their brother’s associates their inferiors in the point of social prestige.

The women whose husbands are successfully employed in the business world have a large range of social influence, and are so well established in their pecuniary standing that they have no fear of losing caste. By virtue of this pecuniary standing they are allowed a greater degree of freedom than the women of the professional classes. They can afford to make their own barriers and to some extent can, with impunity, break down those imposed upon them by tradition. They can afford to be, and often are cosmopolitan in their habits of life. This is in a measure due to the constant shifting of the business interests of the men of the family, and the often close relation of these interests to all classes of society. While the women may be exclusive from inclination, they cannot help but be affected by the democracy of the business world to which their husbands belong.

Hence, society should appreciate the importance of utilizing the leisure of the business man’s wife for the benefit of the community. Her social consciousness has been awakened and she is ready, nay, anxious to give her services. She knows idleness is not conducive to happiness, and purely social pleasures are fast palling upon her. She is a product of a society of business prosperity, highly trained and stimulated by many social forces to a desire for a life of usefulness. She does not want to work for wages—she is not yet willing to violate her leisure-class ideals which forbid her to work for financial remuneration—but she does want to exercise her trained faculties.

It is well to talk about the sacredness of the home, but there can be little sacredness where there is so much idleness and discontent. When women have been deprived of all useful occupations in the home it is necessary for the welfare of the community that they find occupation outside the home. Work is necessary to any normal person if degeneracy is to be avoided. “A life of ease means lack of stimuli, and hence the full development of but few powers. Power and efficiency come only through vigorous exercise, and strength through struggle.”[60]

The women working in our large factories present grave[Pg 56] problems but society is alive to them, and there is some hope of their ultimate solution; but the degenerating influence of excessive leisure has not yet aroused the social conscience.

Nearly every effort to utilize this leisure has come from within the class itself and takes the form of organized effort supported by women’s clubs. This movement, comparatively new, often meets with the restrictions of a conservative society, which thus makes it doubly hard to attain the degree of efficiency needed for the performance of useful services to the community.

Women of leisure are influenced by archaic aristocratic ideals which before the era of industrialism were held by only a small number. With the great increase of wealth and new methods of production the number of women who assume a more or less parasitic relation to society grows with alarming rapidity. The question now is, what is to be done with this increasing number of idlers freed from economic responsibilities formerly imposed by the home? Can they as social factors be neglected without becoming a menace? Can society afford to support an ever-increasing number of women in idleness and allow them to propagate their leisure-class standard of consumption?


[56] Kelly, Some Ethical Gains through Legislation, p. 112.

[57] Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, pp. 65-6.

[58] Patten, New Basis of Civilization, p. 62.

[59] Kelly, Some Ethical Gains through Legislation, pp. 112-3.

[60] Tyler, Man in the Light of Evolution, p. 109.

[Pg 57]

Status of Women and Home Industry among Professional Classes

The effect of industrial changes upon the status of women is most marked in two conspicuous social classes—the class primarily engaged in the task of procuring a bare subsistence where the lack of leisure and insufficient economic returns allows little play for other than the economic forces,—and the class which by virtue of new industrial methods is the recipient of a constantly increasing degree of leisure. Between these two extremes we find the professional classes the prey of a conflict between the newer ideals of democracy and the leisure class ideals wrought out before the era of modern industrialism.

No other class shows so marked a conflict between the older conservatism and the innovations brought about by modern industrial conditions, as the professional classes. The radical tendencies appear in those professions most dependent upon and closely allied to industrial life, and the conservative tendencies claim as their stronghold those fields of activity closely allied to wealth and leisure.

The spirit of innovation is one of the results of an adaptation to changing industrial conditions; and this adaptation is always necessary when a class depends directly for its remuneration upon the individuals for whom the services were rendered. On the other hand, conservatism had its basis in customs arising out of the institutions of the past; can flourish only in a class independent of the general public for its maintenance.

Before the spread of democratic ideals, the field of higher learning was monopolized by the leisure class. Therefore, a high standard of living characterized it, and was essential in maintaining the status of its representatives.

Before the development of industry, the leisure class was synonymous with the nobility or the priesthood. To belong[Pg 58] to the nobility it was necessary to possess the predatory instinct to a marked degree, in order to gain material advantage, especially in an age when wealth was more limited than at present and carried with it almost unlimited power. Sometimes when an individual accumulated much material wealth he was admitted into the noble class, and often into the priesthood.

Although the priesthood loaned its power to the nobility to fortify its temporal authority, it taught equality in the spiritual realm. The greater ease with which the priesthood could be entered opened a larger field for the ambitious youth whose mind craved stimulation. His economic condition had to be such as to free him from the responsibility of providing for others, as well as sufficient to afford him an education. When he had once attained his goal, and belonged to the priestly class, he reached a status in life exclusive by virtue of its prestige, and in no wise divorced from material wealth.

Learning in the past depended upon the individual’s ability to live without productive employment, and a willingness to devote himself to the learned arts which had no economic significance. Here we find a combination of democratic and aristocratic ideals. When marked intellectual ability was manifest, it was not uncommon for one of humble origin to attain a position of distinction in the church. Once in the church he belonged to an exclusive class surrounding itself with rituals and ceremonials.

The nobility of the land received a rude shock from the development of industry, but the church always allied itself to those who were most able to give, and did not hesitate to sacrifice the temporal aristocracy in order to maintain the spiritual one. Although learning “set out with being in some sense a by-product of the priestly vicarious class” it has had to submit to democratic influences which grew out of industrial changes. These influences are most significant in the spread of the rudiments of learning among the common people, and the greater the opportunities for a common school education, the greater the possibility for the individual to enter the field of higher learning when the opportunity presents itself. But to enter this field is to depart from the practical affairs of life[Pg 59] and to devote oneself, if breadwinning were essential, to imparting this knowledge to others. This applies to the practice of acquiring knowledge for the sake of learning and not for its practical application, as for instance in medicine.

No matter how few the impediments placed in the way of the ambitious youth entering the field of higher learning, the lack of economic resources naturally deterred all but the most determined from the undertaking. Hence we find the field of higher learning, which is purely cultural, becoming the privilege of the leisure class, free from economic pressure, and able to maintain the ritual and ceremonial observances. “The universities of Paris and Oxford and Cambridge were founded to educate the lord and the priest. And to these schools and their successors, as time went on, fell the duty of training the gentlemen and the clergy.”[61]

The early universities of Germany showed the same spirit. They “did not grow up gradually, like the earlier ones in France and Italy, but were established after a scheme already extant and in operation. The spiritual and temporal power contributed to their foundation. The Pope, by a bull, founded the institution as a teaching establishment, and endowed it with the privilege of bestowing degrees, whereby it became a studium generale or privilegiatum, for according to mediaeval conceptions teaching had its proper source and origin in the church alone.”[62]

While it is extremely difficult to change fossilized habits of thought, newer civilizations send forth fresh shoots adapted to new conditions. Thanks to the development of industry demanding trained minds of a useful bent, we find the newer institutions of learning becoming more practical, and developing the useful arts and sciences.

“Through the movement toward the democracy of studies and constructive individualism, a new ideal is being reached in American universities, that of personal effectiveness. The ideal in England has always been that of personal culture: that of France, the achieving, through competitive examinations, of ready made careers, the satisfaction of what Villari calls ‘Impiegomania,’[Pg 60] the craze for an appointment; that of Germany, thoroughness of knowledge; that of America, the power to deal with men and conditions.”[63]

The new types of schools, characteristically American, have influenced the older type, until we see on all sides a struggle between the leisure class ideals and the practical ideals of democracy; the outcome of this struggle depending in each case upon the degree of control exercised by the financial contributors—the leisure class or the masses.

The degree of democracy in our higher institutions of learning determines the degree of “ritualistic paraphernalia” in vogue. The use of “ritualistic paraphernalia” is an example of the social ideals of a naturally conservative class and is slow to respond to democratic ideals brought about by industrial changes.

The spread of democracy has brought into our schools a new class of savants. They possess all the qualifications of the older savants save their financial independence. Their poverty is not a great calamity to those who remain celibates, but to the head of a family it means a struggle to maintain a standard of living too high for his income.

The home is the last to free itself from the influence of leisure class ideals which permeate higher learning; and the struggle to reconcile the newer ideals with the older ones is almost tragic. The heaviest strain falls upon the wife who struggles to maintain her social status upon which depends the status of the family. A display of clothes is not as essential to the maintenance of this status as an appearance of leisure, and the conveyance of the impression to the outsider that a high standard of comfort and luxury is realized. That the comfort actually exist is not necessary so long as the outsiders are deceived.

Often a great deal of ingenuity is displayed by the housewife in conveying on a very moderate income the impression that the family is living on a high plane. Economy is practiced “in the obscurer elements of consumption that go to physical comfort and maintenance.”

This class of society illustrates most pathetically the ideals[Pg 61] of propriety of a non-industrial group. Its reluctance in giving up its exclusiveness, and its persistence in clinging to leisure-class standards is most apparent in the home. Here the life of the housewife is often one of drudgery “especially where the competition for reputability is close and strenuous.”

The duties of the wife of the college professor are manifold. The work of ministering to the fundamental needs of the family is left to a servant, or if it is impossible to keep hired help, it is done with as much secrecy as possible, in order to avoid the stigma of commonness. Where she assumes all the household tasks, the strain upon her is a severe one. The mechanical conveniences are not applied to her work with the same degree of speed with which newer patterns in rugs and other furniture make their appearance in the household. The list of articles essential to the maintenance of an appropriate standard of living is a long one, and many of them have no other charm than the expensiveness which proclaims pecuniary strength.

It must not be inferred that the position of the housewife is a subordinate one. Her authority is paramount in the home which her ingenuity has planned and so skillfully manipulates. Her social prestige is as far above her financial means as the standard of living she attempts to maintain is above her husband’s salary. This social prestige rests upon a deference paid to the higher learning her husband is accredited with by virtue of his position. Her intellectual attainments may be very mediocre but that is a matter of indifference as long as she possesses a knowledge of the arts of polite society. Indeed, the superficial acquirements of a ladies’ seminary are of a greater assistance to her in performing her social functions than a mastery of the sciences.

The difficulty encountered in attempting to maintain the old aristocratic ideals is having two effects: There is a greater tendency for college men not to marry, or to marry late in life—after securing an economic foothold; and secondly, to add to incomes by directing a part of their energy along lines offering greater economic returns, such as the writing of books to satisfy a popular demand not of a purely scholastic nature, or of having interests belonging entirely to the business world. Veblen says, “Those heads of institutions are best accepted who combine[Pg 62] the sacerdotal office with a degree of pecuniary efficiency. There is a similar but less pronounced tendency to intrust the work of instruction in the higher learning to men of some pecuniary qualification.”[64]

The business ventures of college men afford a pecuniary return compatible with scholastic scale of living. The increase of income relieves wives of the strain which great economy necessarily involves, and gives them a greater amount of leisure to perform their social duties, and to render the little personal services so essential to the comfort of their families.

In no other class do we see a greater divergence between the rating of the women and that of the men. On the one hand, we see the men graded by a standard of an intellectual nature; on the other hand their womenfolk are rated according to a standard purely social and pecuniary, with no regard to utility. Both are conservative and tend to be archaic depending in a large measure upon the institution where the teaching is done.

The conservatism shown in clinging to ancient ideals of womanhood is illustrated by the attitude of these learned men toward the admission of women into their ranks on an equality with themselves. “There has prevailed a strong sense that the admission of women to the privileges of the higher learning (as the Eleusinian mysteries) would be derogatory to the dignity of the learned craft. It is, therefore, only recently, and almost solely in the industrially most advanced communities, that the higher grades of schools have been freely opened to women. And even under the urgent circumstances prevailing in the modern industrial communities, the highest and most reputable universities show an extreme reluctance to making the move. The sense of class worthiness, that is to say of status, of an honorific differentiation of the sexes according to a distinction between superior and inferior intellectual dignity, survives in a vigorous form in these corporations of the aristocracy of learning. It is felt that women should, in all propriety, acquire only such knowledge as may be classed under one or the other of two heads: (1) such knowledge as conduces immediately to a better performance of domestic service—the domestic sphere; (2)[Pg 63] such accomplishments and dexterity, quasi-scholarly and quasi-artistic, as plainly come in under the head of the performance of vicarious leisure. Knowledge is felt to be unfeminine if it is knowledge which expresses the unfolding of the learner’s own life, the acquisition of which proceeds on the learner’s own cognitive interest, without prompting from the canons of propriety.”[65]

Where women enter the higher fields of learning, they show a tendency—although not so marked as in the past—to select those lines of work and thought which have no practical bearing on every day life. In other words, they follow those lines of study which are most similar to those pursued by the students of the Middle Ages who sought knowledge without any thought of its utility. This tendency of women is evident in co-educational institutions where their selection of studies shows their object in the main to be the acquisition of knowledge of a cultural rather than a practical nature. This choice is most suitable to their object in life assuming that object to be matrimony. The other activity followed mostly by college bred women—school teaching, makes little demand outside of the lines of work pursued by most women.

Men long ago learned that there is a demand for highly trained minds in fields other than that of teaching. They have adapted themselves to this demand until we see men deserting studies of a purely cultural value, and pursuing those more applicable to every day life. Women are showing the same tendencies in communities where there is a demand for their services in fields other than teaching, and where matrimony has become more of an uncertainty and economic independence a fact.

When women pursue their college work with a definite practical purpose in view, they too will desert those lines of work, largely, if not wholly, valued for their culture side alone.

In the schools directly controlled by the people we find a greater appreciation of democracy than in the colleges. The public has great reverence for custom and tradition so long as these conservative forces do not interfere too much with practical utility. This sense of practical utility is closely allied to[Pg 64] the commercial principle of getting the best to be had for money laid out. This principle appeals to all save when it is a violent contradiction to the accepted moral code. The policy conferring the greatest benefit to the greatest number at the least cost is adopted if it does not conflict with more powerful interests. As a result of this policy women are admitted into professional work, especially school teaching, because they will not only work for less wages than will the men, but will do a better grade of work for less money.

Superintendents and principals are agreed that for the same salary a higher grade teacher can be procured among women than among men, and hence, despite their conservatism and prejudice, they feel obliged to follow the policy that best utilizes the means at hand. As a result women have crowded men out of the common schools and have become so well established in this field of work as to have gathered sufficient strength to demand the same remuneration as men for the same kind of work.[66]

Married women are still excluded from many of the common schools in deference to the old idea that married women should remain in the home and follow no remunerative occupation. Even if there existed no good reason for debarring married women from the work of school teaching, the conservatism of the community would deter those in authority from overruling conventional ideas. Not until there is a dearth of teachers, brought about by the extension of the fields of activity open to educated women, will married women receive general recognition in the profession on the same footing with the unmarried.

Although in academic work the instructor is supposed to maintain as high a plane of living as a full professor—especially in the smaller colleges where the faculty is able to maintain its class exclusiveness—the poorly paid minister is not so conscious of the discrepancy between his standard of living and his income. He has, indeed, the same financial problem to face as the college instructor, for he, too, is guided largely by the leisure class standards of the past, but it is smaller and hence less tragic. He is not expected to keep up the same plane of expenditure[Pg 65] as the better paid ministers. He tends to imitate the well-to-do among his parishioners, or the intellectual elite of the community rather than his professional brethren.

The stronger the hold the minister has over his congregation the more closely does his remuneration correspond to the standard of living he is expected to maintain. It is true his services are often undervalued when measured by money, and that he belongs to a profession that stands in a measure for sacrifice, but his social prestige in itself makes certain demands upon the congregation that cannot be overlooked. To maintain this prestige by a high plane of living on a meagre salary is one of the problems of the minister and his family. George Eliot presents the difficulty in a small conservative community in the following words: “Given a man with a wife and six children; let him be obliged always to exhibit himself when outside his own door in a suit of black broadcloth, such as will not undermine the foundations of the establishment by a paltry plebeian glossiness or an unseemly whiteness at the edges; in a snowy cravat, which is a serious investment of labour in the hemming, starching, and ironing departments; and in a hat which shows no symptom of taking in the hideous doctrine of expediency, and shaping itself according to circumstances; let him have a parish large enough to create an external necessity for abundant beef and mutton as well as poor enough to require frequent priestly consolation in the shape of shillings and six-pences; and, lastly, let him be compelled, by his own pride and other peoples’, to dress his wife and children with gentility from bonnet-strings. By what process of division can the sum of eighty pounds per annum be made to yield a quotient which will cover that man’s weekly expenses?”

The problem is still essentially the same in a poor parish, for the minister must maintain a standard of consumption above the average of the community.

The problem tends to assume a different aspect in an industrial community where democratic ideas are as evident as financial prosperity. The individual’s concern for his well-being in another world gives way to his concern for the present. He insists upon spiritual guidance, but also expects assistance in bringing about better relations between himself and his fellow[Pg 66] men. He often insists upon his minister being a higher intellectual product than is demanded by the more conservative communities. He regards him as a teacher who ought to be versed in the affairs of every-day-life and not one confining himself exclusively to the implications of a future state.

Like the school men, ministers are appreciating the necessity of a greater and broader democracy within their class, but unlike the former, their habits of life are more democratic than their teachings.

Those professions depending upon the direct patronage of the public for support are nowadays distinguished by a tendency to depart from the conservatism characteristic of them in their earlier stages. A physician often completes a college course in science and letters before receiving the three or four years training fitting him for his life work. In mental training he rivals the best college professors and yet his social status savors of the common people. He is inclined to be democratic in his tastes, in his habits of life, and in the selection of his companions. He is one of the people rather than of an exclusive social class.

While officialism and ceremonial rituals characterized the medical profession when its services were rendered almost exclusively to the people of rank and distinction, or when it was closely allied to priestly functions, the nature of the work now demands close association with those upon whom the profession depends for financial support. The necessity of associating with people of all ranks fosters the spirit of democracy, and a common-sense philosophy of life.

The physician maintains a standard of living in harmony with the ideals of the community of which he is a part, and in accordance with his income. He cannot maintain a standard of living which erects a social barrier between himself and his patients, either by its extreme simplicity, or by its conspicuous waste.

The wife of the average physician enjoys a freedom from social restraint not seen in many of the professional classes. Financially she does not feel the necessity of entering into economic employments to keep up her standard of living, for[Pg 67] the income of the family, though varying, tends to adjust itself to the demands her social position calls for.

The practice of medicine requires not only considerable skill but great mental concentration, keen judgment and intuition. For women to gain admission into medical schools is to acquire the privilege of the fullest mental development. The concession of this privilege is an acknowledgment of the possession of an inherent ability essential to successfully follow this line of work. When one considers that success in medicine calls for special talent it is evident the number of women seeking to follow this line of work will be small compared with the number desiring to enter the academic field.

Although women make strenuous efforts to overcome all barriers raised against their admission to the different fields of activity, they cling with great tenacity to ancient sex privileges inconsistent with a man’s conception of “solid comfort.” For instance, the objects of medical associations are social as well as scientific. The scientific program would undoubtedly meet with the approval of both sexes in the profession but the social functions are a real stumbling block,—the women leaning toward formalities and conventionalities, and the men toward what is termed “a good social time.” This is in itself sufficient to prompt most men to oppose admitting women into intellectual and social clubs.

The industrial evolution plays a large part in shaping the institutions of society. While economic relations may not be considered the most essential in life, they determine in great measure, the nature of our relations to social institutions themselves.

Where the economic influence is not direct we see preserved with the least change the institutions of the past. What is true of institutions is also true of the occupations of men. Their conservatism varies in the degree to which they are affected by economic and industrial conditions.

Those professions least dependent upon immediate industrial changes are the most conservative in their work and ideas, and most closely reflect the ideals of the past. On the other hand, those professions which depend for their support upon the services rendered to the community remunerated according to the recipients’ estimation of these services, have discarded almost[Pg 68] all the traditions of the past, although their origin can be traced to the most conservative institutions of society.

The influence of industrial changes upon social institutions is apparent in the home. Although the homes of the industrial classes must adapt themselves to industrial changes even though these changes lower the plane of family comfort, the professional classes enjoy a margin above subsistence sufficient to enable them to combat changes with a conservatism characteristic of all classes having a greater respect for custom and leisure-class standards than for beneficial innovations. Hence we find the homes reflecting ideals of the past which clash with the democratic ideals of the present, and illustrate in their various phases the struggle between the old and the new.

While the home makers of some of the professional classes are more conservative than the men, this is not true of those women who are actively engaged in professional work themselves. They are more radical than men of the same class, and are leaders not only in movements for bettering the condition of women, but in progressive movements affecting society as a whole. As a rule they are a superior intellectual type, and not representative of the average woman any more than our intellectual elite among the men represent the average man, for the average person is characterized by adaptability rather than by the spirit of innovations.

The professional classes here discussed are those which have developed out of a class of savants who were originally and primarily engaged with knowledge of an occult nature. It is true that out of these classes engaged in the transmission of knowledge have developed a class of scientists whose field of activity is industrial, the engineer groups—and whose standard of living tends to correspond to the money income of the family. It is often considerably larger than the income of the professional man employed in college work. For that reason the wife of the professional man is not confronted with the same problems as the wife of the teacher.

The social status of the professional people whose activities are confined to the industrial field is measured by their financial status. This makes it unnecessary for them to maintain a plane of consumption at variance with their income.


[61] Jordan, The Voice of the Scholar, pp. 173-4.

[62] Paulsen, German Universities, Character and Historical Development, pp. 21-22.

[63] Jordan, The Voice of the Scholar, pp. 115-6.

[64] Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, p. 375.

[65] Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, pp. 375-6.

[66] Outlook, Vol. 88, pp. 481, 515.

[Pg 69]

The Effects of Industrial Changes Upon Marriage

The effect of industrial changes upon marriage among primitive peoples has been discussed at some length by students of primitive conditions. So closely do the industrial habits of mankind affect the social that one is forced to concede an important place to the economic in the evolution of the race. The preëminence of the struggle for subsistence in the history of civilization shows how reckless it is to make historical interpretations while neglecting the industrial side of society.

The industrial habits of primitive peoples were intimately related to the physical environment. There had to be game before man could live by hunting; a body of water to fish in before there could be fishermen; grass to feed the herds before herding could be the chief occupation of a people; and tillable soil before there could arise an agricultural stage in the history of the race. Favorable conditions had to exist before men could establish even a temporary dwelling place, not to mention a permanent one. Conditions determined the occupations of men, and in turn these occupations made possible a type of social life compatible with the environment. The social life was not a preconceived scheme so much as a development spontaneously arising out of existing conditions. The type of the family was no exception to this rule.

Herman Grosse has a unique place as an exponent of the theory that economic occupations have always been the determining influence in the establishment of the form of marriage and the status of women. “Restricting his examination to the conditions which lie within actual historical or ‘ethnological experience’ he seeks to demonstrate that the ‘various forms of the family correspond to the various forms of economy (Wirthschaft)’; that ‘in its essential features the character of each[Pg 70] particular form of the family may be explained by the form of economy in which it is rooted.’”[67]

Grosse’s point of view is recognized by many writers who have given thought to the subject. Howard says, “It seems certain that the whole truth regarding the problem of kinship, as well as regarding the rise and sequence of the forms of the family, can be reached only through historical investigation of the industrial habits of mankind.”[68]

Ward gives expression to the same idea when he says, “marriage is from the beginning an association dictated by economic needs.”[69]

No evidence existed bearing out the theory of the early prevalence of promiscuity in sexual relations other than a recognized looseness of sexual relations outside the marriage bond; or a marriage of such short duration as to warrant the appellation of temporary pairing. Where the latter custom prevails, it is the outcome of certain social conditions existing in a tribe, and not representative of a certain stage of culture.

Even in our advanced western civilization there exist small communities of peoples who stand for certain moral principles developed to such extreme forms as to shock people generally. These principles often have their basis in sexual relations and are conspicuous by virtue of their contrast to general practices. They in nowise warrant the importance given them, representing as they do a mental excrescence and not a healthy social development. The same may apply equally to primitive societies. Only where certain causes have repeatedly brought about certain results are we justified in the conclusion that certain practices were common in a stage of which we have no direct knowledge.

Speaking of promiscuity, Morgan thinks it “was limited to the period when mankind were frugivorous and within their primitive habitat, since its continuance would have been improbable after they had become fishermen and commenced their spread over the earth in dependence upon food artificially[Pg 71] acquired. Consanguine groups would then form, with intermarriage within the group as a necessity, resulting in the formation of the consanguine family. At all events, the oldest form of society which meets us in the past through deductions from systems of consanguinity is this family. It would be in the nature of a compact on the part of several males for the joint subsistence of the group, and for the defence of their common wives against the violence of society.”[70]

Hobhouse says, “Sheer promiscuity is probably to be regarded rather as the extreme of looseness in the sexual relation than as a positive institution supported by social sanction.”[71]

Grosse finds in the different stages of industrial occupations which he designates as “lower” and “higher hunters” “pastoral peoples” “lower and higher cultivators of the soil,” prevalent forms of marriage corresponding to the occupations pursued by the men.

The Bushmen and the Esquimaux of the present time are the best representatives of the lower hunters among whom monogamy is the form of marriage. Whether the Bushmen or the Esquimaux represent a primitive type of the culture arising out of a lower stage of culture, or a degeneration from a higher type, the author does not know. But he tells us hunger plays a large part in their lives; and the lack of foresight or sense of accumulation accounts for the little advantage the few have over the many.[72]

Hobhouse says, “the strict monogamy and well-united family life of the Veddahs is partly explained by the fact that they live in great measure in isolation. In the dry season they pass their time on their hunting ground; in the wet season small groups of families will resort to some hillock which is the center of two or three hunting grounds and sometimes two or three families will reside together for a time in one cave.”[73]

Among the higher hunters, according to Grosse, monogamy is the prevalent form of marriage but polygamy is sanctioned, and practiced by the wealthy.[74]

[Pg 72]

The conditions of the herders are better known than that of the hunters. The individual family may rest upon monogamy or polygamy depending upon the wealth of the nomad. In Central Asia the price of the wife is often very high, and the father considers his daughters as a means of increasing his wealth. The price a well-to-do Kalmuck asks for his daughter is fifteen horses, fifteen cows, three camel, and twenty sheep. He gives in return as a dowry, one camel, one horse, four sewed garments, eight unmade garments, and tools depending upon his wealth.[75]

The great family (sippe) whether on the father’s or mother’s side developed a social organization having its basis in agriculture. Starke says, “An agricultural community lays much more claim to the capacity of each individual for labour than is the case with a community which is wholly or chiefly occupied with the rearing of cattle. In the former case the diminution of the number of the household is a loss which is difficult to supply, and they are chiefly concerned in keeping up their numbers, that is, in retaining their hold on the individual. But in a cattle-breeding community men make it their first object to increase the number of stock. In the former community the head of the family opposes the departure of his daughter, and seeks to induce her wooer to become one of the household; but in the latter he sells her early, and for as high a price as possible.”[76]

While Grosse emphasizes the fact that the different forms of economy influence the prevalent form of marriage, it is apparent that polygamy exists in a marked degree where women are not valued for their labor, and where there has developed a stage of economy admitting of inequalities in wealth. It is when woman’s work has real economic value that she obtains rights of her own. Agriculture as a means of subsistence is pursued to a marked degree only where there is a measure of security against enemies: where there is strength by virtue of numbers. Under these circumstances warfare is not so common, and there is a tendency for the numbers of the sexes to remain comparatively equal.

[Pg 73]

“The circumstances attending marriage by service, especially when we compare it with marriage by purchase or capture, have shown us how much the relations of husband and wife are determined by what in the modern world is called the economic factor. The savage woman’s price—if we mean by price the difficulty of approaching her—may be high or low. Where it is always possible to organize a raid and carry her off it is decidedly low, and she becomes the captor’s property. When this is not countenanced, it is possible to buy her from her guardian, and then presumably her price like that of other things, is a matter of supply and demand.”[77]

In all civilizations inequalities of wealth arise, and make possible social privileges differing from the common practices of the general population. Under such circumstances we always find social types at variance with established conceptions of right, and human nature showing itself in many cases unspeakably repulsive when free from any economic restraint. This is perhaps, the effect of a freedom from restraint which is made possible by great wealth. The only restraint then is public opinion or religious precepts; the former is easily swayed by the powerful and wealthy, and the latter often admits of a tolerance not shown to the masses of the people.

In industrial communities where no great inequalities of wealth exist, the marriage relation tends toward monogamy. Even where western civilization has made little impression on social institutions, great and conscious inequalities do not often exist between the sexes, and woman’s position is not a degraded one. All the important factors entering into economic life, tending to create serious distinctions—social, political and industrial—between men and men, between the rich and the poor, tend to differentiate status between men and women. Women are most degraded in the marriage relations where they are economically the weakest; where they personally control the least wealth. The few who are more fortunately situated are not sufficiently numerous to make any impressive protest even if they desired to do so.

In a society where the few dictate to the many because of[Pg 74] their financial strength, in a society marked by inequalities originating in predatory exploitation, we find in a greater or less degree moral discrepancies with the prevailing conception of right and wrong. Normal industrial life tends to promote a normal moral life, and to develop ideals most conducive to a steady progress.

When the family represented an exclusive economic unit with little dependence upon the outside world, it was of economic importance to both men and women to marry, and thus lay the foundation for household prosperity. Wife and children were never a luxury to the poor man, but of real economic value. This fact is apparent in new countries where the form of industry must be necessarily domestic. Women have been shipped in large numbers to new colonies to marry the settlers. In practically all cases the women went voluntarily for they too appreciated the importance of obtaining for themselves a place in homes where so much of the social and economic life of the time centered. These unions, primarily economic resulted often in family groups containing much of the ideal.

In the early colonial days of America “every farmer and his sons raised wool and flax; his wife and daughters spun them into thread and yarn, knit these into stockings and mittens, or wove them into linen and cloth, and then made them into clothing. Even in large cities nearly all women spun yarn and thread, all could knit, and many had hand-looms to weave cloth at home.... All persons who were not employed in other ways, as single women, girls, and boys, were required to spin. Each family must contain one spinner.... There were no drones in this hive. Neither the wealth nor high station of parents excused children from this work. Thus all were leveled to one kind of labor, and by this leveling all were elevated to independence.”[78]

In all rural communities of modern Europe much of women’s work is of considerable importance from an economic point of view, and there is little incentive for a man to remain single from economic prudence. Instead of an economic burden the wife is more often a helpmeet who even offers her services for pay outside the home. She works in the fields like a man[Pg 75] and is an important factor when estimating the value of labor on the farm.

Letourneau says, “At Paris, where the struggle for existence is more severe, and where the care for money is more predominant, late marriages abound, and it is only above the age of forty for men and thirty-five for women that the marriage rate equals and even exceeds, that of the whole of France.”[79]

The constant drifting of country population into large cities where employment can be found is affecting markedly the life of the rural community, and tending to postpone the formation of family ties until an economic foothold is secured.[80]

There has been a slight diminution of the marriage rate since the middle of the nineteenth century, but so many forces have come into play that one is hardly justified in the conclusion that this decrease is due entirely to economic causes.

Number of Marriages Per 1000 Population.[81]

Great Britain7.17.16.9

Some statisticians see co-relation between the price of food and the marriage rate.[82]

Food, clothing, and shelter are the essential needs of man. When the price of food, shelter, and clothing increases and wages remain the same, the money income of the family is relatively less. If the price of food remains the same and wages are lowered because of an oversupply of labor to meet the demand, or for other causes, the effect is practically the same. When marriage means an increase of the financial burden, and foresight[Pg 76] comes into play there will naturally follow a postponement of marriage. Letourneau says, the “principal causes which influence matrimony are the greater or less existence, and the extreme importance attached to money. As a general rule, life and death tend to balance each other, and the populations whose mortality is great have, as compensation, a rich birth-rate. We invariably see the number of marriages and births increasing after a series of prosperous years, and vice versa. General causes have naturally a greater influence on the population living from hand to mouth. The well-to-do classes escape this, and we find that the chances of marriage for the rich increase during years of high prices.”[83]

Economic conditions will not prevent people from marrying when it is understood the wife will continue her work in the factory as is true in many manufacturing towns, especially in Europe. Under such conditions marriage does not signify an immediate increase of the financial burden of the husband. In fact, if marriage meant that the entire burden of support was to fall upon the man alone, it would be a serious matter when under the existing conditions husband and wife together can scarcely make a living.[84]

European countries are cited as admirable examples of advanced legislation for the protection of the home. Farsightedness and a love of domesticity are not so much responsible for the protection of women in industry as the fact that they have become a well established factor in industrial life, such as they have not yet reached in the United States.

When legislation provides women with a longer noon hour than men, it is an acknowledgment of the fact that many women, so many as to make legislation in their behalf a crying need, are employed outside of the home and at the same time carrying the burden of maintaining a household after working hours. The extra half hour at noon allowed married women is time in which to prepare the noonday meal for the members of the family. Beneficent as legislation is in behalf of married women looking toward the welfare of the race, it is significant[Pg 77] of the fact that women are being forced out of the home into the industrial field and compelled to assume heavier burdens than the men. To restrict fecundity under such circumstances, or to refuse to be mothers at all, is hardly a reproach to the women who are thus forced to toil, but rather a reproach to civilization imposing home-making, motherhood, and breadwinning upon the supposed weaker sex.

In communities where women take their places with their husbands in the factory or work-shop, industrial changes do not affect the marriage rate. It is where women are not expected to contribute to the family income, and where men’s wages are at first by no means adequate to meet the expenses of a household, that the marriage rate is affected.

Nevertheless even under these circumstances, where there is no outlook but one of poverty for the future, marriages are often formed.

The decrease of the marriage rate among people who live close to the margin of subsistence is not as apparent as among people whose income warrants a scale of living which gratifies the higher social wants. What is often attributed to the selfishness of men is a growing consciousness of the responsibility which marriage involves as well as an increase in the responsibility itself. There is a greater need of money outlay than ever before, and with the decreasing importance of women’s labor in the home, the financial strain is so great as to prompt men to postpone marriage until they are able to support a family in comfort, comfort meaning not merely sufficient food and clothing for physical well being but a scale of expenditure characteristic of one’s class.

The increasing independence of women is an effect of the postponement of marriage on the part of men rather than a cause. When men no longer assume family responsibilities as soon as they become voters, or shortly thereafter, women are forced into avenues of employment for a livelihood. The lengthening period which a man dedicates to preparing himself for his life work makes it just that much more difficult for the women of his class to marry early.

When once established in the industrial field and confirmed[Pg 78] in certain habits of life associated with a higher plane of consumption than they can hope for in a home of their own, women are not so eager to give up the luxuries and opportunities for personal expression which their work may afford, for matrimony. This is especially true at an age when marriage has lost much of the romance youth endows it with. When life is comparatively easy, and the romantic period of youth is passed, the economic factor assumes greater importance in matrimonial alliances. To lower one’s economic and social status, even when prompted to do so by high ideals and motives, receives little commendation from an enlightened community and its “How could she?” savors more of contempt than admiration.

Among the higher social classes—although the same tendency is showing itself in all classes—there is a growing consciousness of the individual’s importance as a social unit, rather than his importance as a part of the family unit. His ties to society are growing at the expense of family ties. This changed attitude does not arise from selfishness for never in history have men shown greater ability and willingness to sacrifice personal interests to the interests of society. There is a rapidly growing sentiment on the part of each that he is indeed his brother’s keeper, and he is responsible for evil industrial and social conditions. The time favors, not the family as opposed to the community, but the family as a part of the community.

Says Howard, “More threatening to the solidarity of the family is believed to be the individualistic tendencies arising in existing urban and economic life. With the rise of corporate and associated industry comes a weakening of the intimacy of home ties. Through the division of labor the ‘family hearth-stone’ is fast becoming a mere temporary meeting-place of individual wage-earners.”[85]

Thus we are rapidly approaching the time when men can no longer consider marriage an economy. A wife tends to become a luxury to the average man in so far as she adds nothing to the income of the family and increases its expenses.

It is true many married women among the professional classes work outside the home, but the practice is not sufficiently[Pg 79] widespread to meet with the general approval of a conservative society. When this practice becomes common, provided there is no corresponding decrease in the salaries of men and the increase of the income of the family is marked, marriage will become more attractive to men.

Women, too, consider the economic side of marriage. They are just as unwilling to lower their plane of living as the men. To the average woman to marry a poor man means drudgery, for although her economic importance as a bread winner has decreased, her domestic duties have not grown correspondingly less.

Women’s class status shifts more easily than that of men. With the latter it is personal success while with the former it is the matrimonial relation that determines one’s social sphere. For this reason women consciously or unconsciously are guided in their choice of a husband by economic considerations. With the decrease of their productive capacity in the home there is a greater need on their part to consider the pecuniary side.

The marriage-rate among the rich and the very poor is little affected by economic changes. The one feels no need to curtail expenses to meet the needs of a family; the other is so hopelessly poor, especially in many of the European countries, so starved in mind and body as to be irresponsive to any but the primary animal instincts. It is the large middle classes that reflect social and economic changes and determine the type of future social institutions.


[67] Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, I, pp. 60-61.

[68] Ibid, I, p. 115.

[69] Ward, Pure Sociology, p. 358.

[70] Morgan, Ancient Society, p. 501.

[71] Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution, p. 140.

[72] Grosse, Familie und Wirthschaft, p.

[73] Hobhouse, Morals in Evolution, I, p. 43.

[74] Grosse, Familie und Wirthschaft, pp. 73-4.

[75] Grosse, Ibid, pp. 104-5.

[76] Starke, The Primitive Family, pp. 99, 100.

[77] Hobhouse, Morals and Evolution, I, p. 176.

[78] Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days, pp. 166-7.

[79] Letourneau, The Evolution of Marriage, p. 352.

[80] E. Vandervelde, L’Exode Rural.

[81] Bailey, Modern Social Conditions, p. 139.

[82] Mayo-Smith, Statistics and Sociology, p. 100.

[83] Letourneau, The Evolution of Marriage, pp. 351-2.

[84] See page 51.

[85] Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, III, 227-8.

[Pg 80]

Economic Forces and the Birth-Rate

In primitive times infanticide was often resorted to as a means of freeing the tribe from the care and responsibility of unwelcome children. McLennan says, “The moment infanticide was thought of as an expedient for keeping down numbers, a step was taken, perhaps the most important that was ever taken in the history of mankind.”[86]

Westermarck thinks McLennan places too much emphasis upon the extent of the practice of infanticide. “A minute investigation of the extent to which female infanticide is practiced has convinced me that McLennan has much exaggerated the importance of the custom. It certainly prevails in many parts of the world; and it is true that, as a rule, female children are killed rather than male. But there is nothing to indicate that infanticide has ever been so universal or had anywhere been practiced, on so large a scale, as McLennan’s hypothesis presupposes.”[87]

Among primitive peoples when starvation threatened a tribe, it is reasonable to believe a sacrifice of life was considered necessary to lessen immediate as well as prospective suffering and where the new-born infants were the selected victims, the female children would be sacrificed before the male. The services of women were of less importance to a warring community than of men, and under ordinary circumstances there would be a tendency for women to out number men since they were not exposed to the risks and hardships warfare imposed upon the men.

That infanticide was widely practiced where there was no danger from starvation does not seem likely. The maternal instinct is very pronounced among all animals, and the mother[Pg 81] shows greater willingness to sacrifice herself than her offspring. It must have been necessary to overcome the mother feeling by force of reasoning, or by an exercise of tyrannical authority to win her consent.

There existed many natural checks to the increase of population among primitive peoples. Droughts and the ravages of diseases played no small part in keeping down numbers. These same natural forces in perhaps fewer forms are still effective in all countries of the world, producing an infant mortality of an alarming proportion.

Unsanitary conditions, bad housing, impure milk and water, and the heat of summer are among the checks to the more rapid increase of population. Mr. Phelps says in his statistical study of infant mortality, “In view of the many material changes in the living habits and industrial conditions of the world’s population in the last generation, the great advance in medical knowledge and the marked decrease in the general death-rate, the practical uniformity of the infantile death-rate the world around is simply astounding.”[88]

The problem of how to decrease infant mortality has received considerable attention from municipal and philanthropic associations. The results obtained are far from satisfactory, so great and far reaching are its causes.

The fall of the birth-rate is generally attributed to psychological rather than to physiological causes. Statistical reports do not show the same decline in the birth-rate among the inhabitants of poor districts of a city as among the well-to-do. A large number of the unskilled workers are foreigners, or people ignorant in respect to medical and physiological knowledge, and likewise unconscious of the prevalence of the practice of the restriction of the birth-rate. But the rapid diffusion of knowledge of all kinds in a democratic country will soon change this state of affairs. Mrs. Commander’s study of the birth-rate led her to believe that the birth-rate among immigrants who come to the United States of America “falls decidedly below European standards, and that the majority of[Pg 82] immigrants when only a short time in this country imbibe the idea of limiting family. The small family appears to be an American ideal which immigrants accept as they do other American ideals.”[89]

The investigation of the Fabian Society of London brought to light the fact that “the decline in the birth-rate appears to be especially marked in places inhabited by the servant keeping class. The birth-rate of Bethnal Green—the district in London in which there are fewest non-Londoners and in which fewest of the inhabitants keep domestic servants fell off between 1881 and 1901 by twelve per cent and that of Hampstead, where most domestic servants are kept, fell off by no less than 36 per cent. The birth-rate for 1901 of five separate groups of metropolitan boroughs arranged in grades of average poverty gave the following interesting result. The small group of three ‘rich’ boroughs have, for 100,000 population 2,004 legitimate births; the four groups comprising 19 intermediate boroughs have almost identical legitimate birth-rate between 2,362 to 2,490 for 100,000 whilst the poorest group of 7 boroughs has a legitimate birth-rate of no less than 3,078, or 50 per cent more than that in the ‘rich’ quarters.”[90]

The pathological reason for the decline in the birth-rate is presented by The National League for the Protection of the Family. “Since the discovery of the germ of what was formerly considered the milder and less harmful of the two chief sexual diseases, and more especially since the numerous ramifications and effects of this milder form, hitherto little suspected to exist, have been found and studied, there has been a strong tendency towards agreement among medical authorities that this disease is the real cause of a large part of the decline in the birth-rate everywhere. While the difficulty of getting accurate statistics on the subject is fully recognized by the authorities upon it, they seem to agree that nearly or quite one-half of the cases of sterility among the married are due to this milder of the two diseases, and some would put it much higher. The more recent[Pg 83] investigations also go to show, so the medical authorities say, that a large number of what they call ‘one-child marriages’ must be accounted for by the effects of this milder of the two diseases.”[91]

Thorndyke suggests that the opinion that the decline in the birth-rate is psychological rather than physiological may be “as wide of the mark as the common belief that unwillingness is the main cause of the failure of the women of the better classes to nurse their children”. As a contradiction of natural selection, he says, “I may suggest that the existence, amount and result of the elimination of types by their failure to produce of their kind is after all a problem which only statistical inquiries can settle and that if the doctrine is to be used as an excuse for reading certain obvious facts in human history it is perhaps time that it should be questioned.”[92]

Undoubtedly various causes are responsible for the decline in the birth-rate, some of which have existed for ages. When the dominant cause is psychological the remedy, if desirable, must be looked for in the education of a community. Conditions must be brought about making children desirable in the home, and a sufficient number of them for the race to hold its own. But if the cause is beyond individual selfishness—is other than psychological, and is a symptom of race degeneracy in its reproductive capacities, it is as Thorndyke suggests “time that it should be questioned.”

A statistical study of 524 families in the city of Chicago made in the summer of 1909 suggests the possibilities of race degeneracy brought about by economic causes. The mothers of these 524 families had been married at least ten years and were born in foreign countries. The nationalities represented were Italians, Germans, Irish, Bohemians, Polish, Swedish and Norwegian, English and Scotch. They were people who lived in the congested districts of the city and whose families represented from one to thirteen children. 588 children died before[Pg 84] they reached the age of three years and 303 more were prematurely born or died at birth, making the total loss under three years of age of 891.

Of the 588 deaths practically all would be attributed to social causes such as unsanitary conditions existing in large cities or the ignorance of mothers in the care and feeding of their children. Of the 303 babies who died at birth or were prematurely born a large percentage would be attributed to psychological causes resulting in foetiside. But when one considers that only 20 per cent of the mothers embraced the Protestant religion, a little less than 15 per cent were Jews and 65 per cent Catholics—the Catholic mother believes the unbaptized child is destined to eternal punishment—the suspicion seems unwarranted.

It is true the above cases are all abnormal. They do not even represent the average family of the congested parts of Chicago but rather the most unfortunate of the unfortunate. They are the mothers who were sent by the charity associations to the summer camps for a few weeks’ rest. Nearly all were miserably poor, and had large families which in all probability were important factors bringing about their poverty.

Undoubtedly the men of the families were the most inefficient workers and the women possessed the least vitality when compared with the women of the more fortunate classes. They might have been the least fit to be parents, and their children—those who did survive the first three years of life—help to swell the number of defective children in our schools.

The fact, as Phelps notes, that so little difference exists in the infant mortality-rate in the various countries of the world in spite of increased medical knowledge may be indicative of a social evil common to all countries, namely poverty.

The people who come from Europe and make up the tenement districts are the poorest class at home, and many of them have never been properly nourished. A United States Emigration report says, “The Poles are a most prolific race, of strong and good physique, but rather anaemic in appearance, owing to insufficient diet;” of the Bohemians, “the people are industrious and economical. Their homes are primitive and barren of everything except necessities.” One of the reasons the Italian[Pg 85] comes to this country is “the fact that the needs of the people have outstripped the means of satisfying them.”[93]

It is most often real hunger that drives the emigrant to a new country in the hopes of bettering his condition. And perhaps it is generations of hunger, of malnutrition, on the part of the mother that is responsible for the inability of the new-born child to resist infantile diseases, or that prevents its natural birth. Thus the economic sins of one generation are visited upon the next. There is indeed danger of race degeneracy if the mothers and fathers of the future generations are to be the underfed and the underpaid of the present time.

When necessity forced men to invade women’s field of work they did not assume the heavier tasks because of their inconsistency with motherhood, but because they were those tasks most in harmony with their habits of life. Primitive women’s work was severe, but it was work consistent with a stationary life which was desirable in the bearing and rearing of children. Convenience helped to determine habits of life and they in turn developed into customs. These customs were responsible for many of the sex barriers, and class barriers of later historical times.

The individual belonged to a class and his status was apparently fixed. There was complete subordination within the class and competition became class competition rather than individual competition. Thus occupations were fixed and the plane of living showed little variation from one generation to the other. There was no incentive to leave one’s class, and little possibility of doing so. The individual’s future was secure. At least it was not a game of chance, and children had an equal chance at prosperity or starvation with their parents. The son followed the occupation of his father which was in all probability the occupation of his grandfather as well. The daughter was content with the status of her mother, for she knew nothing different. She accepted things as they were, just as her brother did, and whether her lot was hard or comparatively easy, it was not for her to question it.

Wherever this social regime exists, the birth-rate is high. But[Pg 86] wherever class barriers are let down, and there is a possibility of the individual shifting from one class to the other, competition between individuals grows keen and individualization progresses by leaps. The tyranny of custom and tradition ceases, and the lower classes can with impunity imitate the higher classes. This creates an insatiable desire for invidious distinction. The means to attain the desired end are purely economic. The mother often engages in gainful occupations to raise the plane of living and gain social prestige. An increasing family becomes of vital concern to both parents because it would entail a foregoing of luxuries which have to them become necessities.

This same overwhelming power of new wants is in a large measure responsible for the increasing number of women in the professional fields of work. To them it is an economic necessity. When measured by the mental torture involved it is as essential to maintain the standards of one’s class as bread is to the poor Russian peasant. A girl will stand behind the counter from morning until night displaying goods to exacting customers in order to maintain her standard of dress. If she fails, she suffers probably as much as if her supply of food were insufficient to satisfy her hunger.

The decrease of the birth-rate among the middle classes is thought to be psychological. The Royal Commission on the decline of the birth-rate in New South Wales after a careful investigation came to the conclusion that the reasons for limiting the birth-rate “have one element in common, namely selfishness.” Other investigators call this force egoism, individualization, or the result of a struggle to maintain the standard of life common to a class, all of which means an increased consciousness of self. Ross says, “In the face of the hobby-riders I maintain that the cause of the shrinkage in fecundity lies in the human will as influenced by certain factors which have their roots deep in the civilization of our times.”[94]

With the decrease of the importance of women’s work in the home, and the increase of the necessity for them to enter the industrial field, the birth-rate will continue to fall. Women’s[Pg 87] invasion of the fields of work outside the home will eventually result in a marked decline in fecundity. So long as individual competition prevails in the business world, the successful women will be those without the handicap of small children. Mothers of small children cannot compete successfully in the industrial world with the women who have no ties making demands on their time or energy. Here lies the real danger arising out of the necessity of women seeking employment outside the home. Under the present industrial regime motherhood is not compatible with business careers.

As long as the home was an industrial sphere and demanded the entire time and energy of women there was little chance on their part for individual development. But with the transition of work from the home to the factory, women’s interests ceased to be necessarily centered about the hearth, and many of them developed an individuality formerly characteristic of men only. Freed from the cares of maternity women are quite as radical as men. It is maternity that is largely responsible for the conservatism of women and their indifference toward affairs outside the home.

The high birth-rate of former times will not return nor is it desirable, for the decreased death-rate among infants will tend to maintain numbers. But while in the past children were accepted without question, and parents never thought of the possibility of limiting the size of their families, in the future the human will will play an ever increasing part. Whether the guiding motive in restricting the birth-rate will be a worthy one, or one to be deprecated will depend upon those social institutions which are responsible for the production of individuals’ ideals.


[86] McLennan, Studies in Ancient History, pp. 81-2, 2nd Series.

[87] Westermarck.

[88] Phelps, A Statistical Study of Infant Mortality, p. 268. Quarterly Publication of The American Statistical Association.

[89] Commander, The American Idea, p. 18.

[90] Webb, Physical Degeneracy or Race Suicide. Popular Science Monthly, Dec. 1906, pp. 515-6.

[91] Annual Report for 1906, p. 10. American Journal of Sociology, March, 1909. Doctor Morrow says, “A large proportion of sterile marriages, contrary to the popular view, is from incapacity and not of choice.” p. 626.

[92] Thorndyke, Decrease in the Size of American Families. Popular Science Monthly, May, 1903, p. 69.

[93] Department of Commerce and Labor, Emigration to the U. S. 1904, pp. 105, 112.

[94] Ross, Western Civilisation and the Birth-Rate. Am. Jour. of Soc. XII, 610, March 1907.

[Pg 88]

Economic Changes and the Divorce-Rate

So long has society been accustomed to accepting as final the laws and customs arising out of earlier social conditions, that changes brought about by new conditions, and contrary to the accepted scheme of things arouse a widespread concern. There is no better illustration of the conflict between the new and the old than the present tendency to divorce, and the steady pressure of our social institutions to combat this tendency.

It did not take primitive man long to see that organization was essential to preservation. Only the best organized tribes could survive in a struggle; and the closer the organization, the greater the advantage when contending with outside or hostile forces. The basis of tribal organization was the family, and the tribes with the best organized families in a growing society proved the most effective in the tribal life.

When the family became a recognized unit of stability—either for methods of warfare or economic reasons—forces arose tending to establish sentiments opposed to divorce. It was of primary importance that these sentiments should be accepted as a code of morality in a loosely organized society. It is when the larger organization, such as the state, is not strong enough to maintain its own stability, that it is of the utmost importance that the units composing it should be compact and self reliant. Only in a highly organized, socialized society, can the family be viewed as a compact with the welfare of its individual members as its sole motive for existence.

In primitive times the unity of the family was of the utmost importance to the men of the tribe as well as to the women. The permanency of the marriage relation was essential to the preservation of society, for the state could not assume the function of protection in contradistinction to the protection afforded by the male head of the family. It is only in peaceable communities[Pg 89] where the occupations of the people are principally industrial that a social consciousness arises, making possible a non-militant social compact looking toward the individual’s welfare as part of the community welfare.

It was important, too, that the head of the family should assume the responsibility of caring for the helpless. If this were not so, the care of the offspring would be shifted from the family to the tribe or state. Irrespective of the moral practices within the family, or the form of marriage, it was essential to maintain the family unity for the care and the protection of children.

On the other hand it was important for the women to be attached to some household, and recognized as a permanent part of it. If not, in cases where their rights were entirely overlooked, they would be forced to return to the households of their fathers. Consciously or unconsciously the members of the tribe appreciated the importance of creating moral sentiments fostering family responsibilities on the part of the individual.

Divorce in the past was essentially a masculine institution. The state arose out of the desire to protect property rights of the individual. Women did not possess property to any considerable extent and so were denied the privileges arising therefrom. They were considered by both father and husband as property and all property rights inhering in them as in lands and cattle. That is, the status of women did not necessarily make them property, but the property right possession involved was responsible to a marked measure for their status.

In many primitive tribes women neither fought nor cared for the herds and all their activities resolved themselves into personal services. Hence, more than one wife was a luxury to a husband for she was a real economic burden.

All laws governing property naturally applied to women and aimed alone at protecting the rights of men. Transgression against these matrimonial rights of a man was an offense against property and punished accordingly. It was not an offense against the moral sense of the community, or of the individual, for wife-loaning was looked upon with favor by many while the usurpation of the same privilege was punishable by death. It was a crime against property and not against the woman in question.

[Pg 90]

Women were often treated with great brutality, but this abuse did not follow necessarily because they were women—the male is naturally more considerate at all times of the female than of his own kind—but because they possessed no rights which were synonymous with economic strength. Their relative economic value did not inhere in them personally but in the economic strength of their fathers and husbands.

The rights of women increased with the increase of their economic importance in the household. During the period of domestic industry, divorce was almost unknown. When it was practiced, it was the exclusive privilege of the leisure class, or of those whose financial well being was secured.

It is true the church took a decided stand against divorce and did much toward counteracting the supposed evil, but a far greater force was the development of the medieval town with its domestic industries.

Agricultural occupations were also a strong unifying force in the family relation. Where people are attached to the soil by virtue of their occupations and property rights, the home is an economic unit just as is true of the diminutive factory carried on within the family group.

When the economic habits of man necessarily attach him to a plot of ground, or to a definite group of industrial workers who make up in part the family group, there exists naturally strong sentiments opposed to the breaking up of the group. Although recognized as fundamentally social, these sentiments arise out of an economic bond.

The unifying of the economic interests of the family brought about an increased sense of family responsibility on the part of men. It was also of the utmost importance to women that the marriage bond should be a permanent one; thus assuring them a protection for themselves and their children against the outside world.

When the home was the center of practically all economic activities, the family was given a measure of stability by virtue of its economic importance. To leave the family circle meant, not only the severing of ties of sentiment, but the cutting loose from economic moorings.

[Pg 91]

We now come to a period in history when machine industry is revolutionizing the home and rapidly changing its economic significance. Woman’s work is being transferred to the factory, and necessity is forcing her to follow it, or to seek other fields of work that promise her a livelihood. Leaving the home hearth for a wider industrial field, is giving her the same outlook as man, and allowing her to determine her relations to the world outside the home. Her economic independence is secured, and it is no longer necessary for her to be attached to a household in order to secure employment as a means of securing her subsistence. Thus is made possible the breaking of the marriage bond on the part of women and escape from conditions which formerly were tolerated.

The census reports show a constant tendency for the divorce-rate to increase in the United States. Undoubtedly it would be higher than it is at present if more women possessed means of support which would not necessitate the losing of their social status, for there are many women who have had no practical training, nor training of any kind to make their own living. If thrown upon their own resources they would be forced into the ranks of the unskilled workers. As married women they hold enviable positions of social prestige. But the income of the husband is not sufficient to keep both husband and wife on the accustomed plane of living when separated, although such separation may be mutually desirable.

A fair comparison cannot be made of the rate of divorce in different countries or states since there exists such wide discrepancies in the laws themselves, diminishing or increasing the difficulties of obtaining divorces. So marked are the differences in the divorce laws in the various states of the United States, that certain communities have won the title of “divorce colonies” and thereby attracted at least a temporary increase of population. Hence, low divorce rates may merely mean a greater difficulty in obtaining separation.

In some countries the expense of obtaining a divorce makes it a luxury beyond the poor. In England and Wales “the expense and delay involved in procuring a divorce there are so great that only somewhat wealthy persons can go into court, and they do not feel so severely the burden of a financial crisis.[Pg 92] This conjectural explanation derives some support from the fact which a French statistician of some eminence claims to have proved, that such periods of distress in Great Britain, while checking marriage among the poor, are attended by an increase of marriage among the rich. This difference between effects of hard times in Europe and in the United States, together with a very rapid increase in divorce among the southern negroes, and the fact that only about one wife in six of these obtaining divorce receives an alimony, are among the indications that divorce has become very frequent and perhaps most frequent among our lower middle classes and has reached for weal or woe a lower stratum than perhaps anywhere in Europe.”[95]

We all know that the divorce rate is higher in the United States than in any European country, and is increasing more rapidly. “In 1870 there were 155 divorces, and in 1880, 303 divorces, to 100,000 married couples. In 1870, 3.5 per cent of the marriages were terminated by divorce; in 1880, 4.8 per cent; and in 1890, 6.2 per cent.”

According to the Census Report of 1906 the divorce-rate is still increasing rapidly. From 1887 to 1891 there was an increase of divorces of 34.1 per cent; from 1892 to 1896 an increase of 23.9 per cent.; from 1897 to 1901 an increase of 33.7 per cent.; and from 1902 to 1906 an increase of 27.6 per cent.[96]

As we have already seen, the decrease of the importance of women’s work in the home has affected the status of women generally, economically and socially. Among the poor it has forced many married women to seek employment outside the home. The inability of the husband and father to meet his economic responsibilities has imposed upon women an added responsibility. And in so far as mothers of families have shouldered economic burdens outside the home there is a tendency for fathers to lose their family pride and sense of economic independence. The man who must remain at home, do the housework and care for the children, while his wife goes out to earn the living, if he cares at all, feels that he has failed dismally. Charity workers agree that the economic independence[Pg 93] of women of the most unfortunate classes has the effect of lessening the moral responsibility of the supposed bread-winner and head of the family. Desertion on the part of fathers is so common as to create a social problem.

The causes for desertion are many, and work toward a decreased respect for family ties. “The great amount of travel due to constantly increasing means of communication; the ease with which a man, accustomed to one of the simple processes of modern machinery, can adapt himself to many others without any long training, so making employment more readily obtainable; the fuller knowledge of other communities afforded by the multiplied newspapers, and perhaps the numerous items about other deserters which awaken a dormant impulse, just as cheap novels prompt some boys to start out as Indian fighters, all contribute to the state of mind which makes desertion possible. If a man who had indulged such thoughts, can, without much time or expense, in some cases even by investing a nickel or less, by taking a trolley or a ferry, put himself into a neighboring state, beyond the power of the court to compel him to support his family, where he can spend all he earns for his own gratification, he is in danger of finding some excuse for going.”[97]

When one considers that a large percentage of the people with whom the social workers deal are foreigners and children of foreigners; that religious precepts are comparatively strong; and that they cling to custom and traditions with greater tenacity than the more fortunate classes, it seems justifiable to attribute the large number of separations in this class—although many of these separations are never registered in the divorce courts—to economic causes.

Divorce, like many of our social institutions has been influenced by the rights of property, and is no true criterion for measuring the moral habits of a people. Where property rights are considered most sacred the institution of divorce is almost unknown. This is especially true when the existing forms of wealth are closely allied to land holding. There, industrial development is backward and all the social institutions[Pg 94] reflect the conservative influence of the past, rather than the progressive movements of the present. For instance, the southern states, where property rights and institutions arising out of the same reflect the spirit of the patriarchal slavery system, divorce is less common. And yet the morality among the lower social classes there does not compare favorably with other sections of the country where the divorce-rate is high. It is among the better classes that the family represents a compactness and stability wherein divorce has little play.

It is true there are some states which represent an advanced industrial development as is found in the country where divorce is granted only for adultery. But in these states such restriction is felt to be oppressive. This is evident by the number who seek release from conjugal ties in other than their home state. What is true of England is true of certain American states, that is, the low divorce-rate is the result of the difficulty of obtaining legal separations. For example the home life in New York is not any more admirable than the home life in the extreme west where the divorce-rate is the highest.

Unless the industrial development and economic conditions are similiar it is impossible to measure the moral standards of communities by a comparison of their divorce-rates. Legislation dealing directly with family relations ought to take into consideration the industrial habits of the community as well as the moral and social ideals arising out of existing conditions.

It is true, a high divorce-rate has been a symptom of a decadent race, but on the other hand it does not necessarily follow that a deteriorating race is characterized by a high divorce-rate, or that a high divorce-rate signifies a retrogressive people. It may be a symptom of a decline of moral conceptions, but it may also mean a higher conception of morality, and a decline of respect for property rights in women. The frontiersman is not inspired with the same awe of wealth as the man who remained at home in a settled community; and his moral conceptions tend to conform less to tradition and custom and more to his own individual conscience.

Howard says, “Divorce is a remedy and not the disease. It is not a virtue in a divorce law, as it appears to be often assumed, to restrict the application of the remedy at all hazards,[Pg 95] regardless of the sufferings of the social body. If it were always the essential purpose of a good law to diminish directly the number of bona fide divorces, the more rational course would be to imitate South Carolina and prohibit divorce entirely. Divorce is not immoral. It is quite probable on the contrary, that drastic, like negligent, legislation is sometimes immoral. It is not necessarily a merit, and it may be a grave social wrong, to reduce the legal causes for a decree to the one ‘scriptural’ ground.”[98]

Divorce is an expression of revolt. It may be an expression of revolt against conditions imposed by one individual upon another, or against a position of inferiority in the family group imposed upon women by tradition. Instead of a wide spread incompatibility of temperaments of two individuals held together by wedlock, the incompatibility may exist in part between the social institution called “the home” and the ideas and ideals of a democratic community.

The entire social atmosphere outside the home—whether in the school or in the club, or in any other social group aims to inspire an individualization and socialization in harmony with high moral precepts. We are living in an age when the individual counts as an important part of the social groups of which he is a member, and some vital matter must be at stake when the individual is required to sacrifice himself against his will for the good of the community.

Women have been considered the property of their husbands for so long that an initiative on their part, disturbing the stability of the conjugal bond is viewed by many as a symptom of rampant anarchy. What it does indicate is a marked growth in the rights of women, and a tendency for these rights, especially economic rights, to approach the plane of the rights of men.

If the present tendency to divorce is a superficial phenomenon only, measures ought to be taken to check it. But if it is vital, and has its roots deep down in our social order, it cannot be checked by mere repression without perpetrating a grave social wrong.

There are no historical facts enabling us to predict the outcome.[Pg 96] Divorce in the past was a masculine institution and worked great hardships upon women and children. It was the rich and not the poor, the men and not the women who enjoyed the privilege of breaking the marriage bond. To counteract its evil influences, all social institutions combined in impressing upon man the necessity of accepting his family responsibilities out of justice to his wife, his children and the community. So long has the lesson been impressed that many men consider it a grave moral responsibility to remain as a protector of their families. Such is not the case with women. No matter how great their industrial burdens in the home, the past taught them submission, and not responsibility. All their training—other than industrial—had as its goal accomplishments that in nowise involved responsibilities. Whatever industrial responsibilities the home imposed upon them, the business world of today has largely freed them from. This economic situation is leaving an increasing number of women without the discipline of work or necessity. This lack of responsibility on the part of women may be in part a reason why they more often than men seek a divorce. Many women are showing by their unselfish public spirit an appreciation of the importance of the social forces dealing with the care and the protection of children. In their social capacities they are working out many of the social problems dealing with all humanity, as well as the problems of their sex alone. Many of the serious problems, especially those bearing directly upon the home, the relations of husband and wife, and mother and children, will be solved in time—not by our law makers alone but with the co-operation of women.

It is true many of our cherished traditions and customs are in grave danger of complete annihilation. If this destruction is to be brought about by the baser elements in human nature—the love of sensual ease, dissipation and depravity—our civilization is indeed in danger. But if the motive power is the love of freedom as against the needless sacrifice of the individual—a desire to give expression to creative instincts which are alike in men and women—there exist signs that out of the alarming confusion will arise something better, and more conducive to a progressive civilization.


[95] Willcox.

[96] Special Report of the Census Office. Marriage and Divorce, 1867-1906. Part 1, 1909, pp. 68-69.

[97] Brandt and Baldwin, Family Desertion, p. 8.

[98] Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, III, pp. 219-220.

[Pg 97]

The Political Rights of Women and Industrial Changes

In studying the history of primitive societies, we find authority resting upon economic strength of military prowess, the latter nearly always associated with material advantages. Property is synonymous with power whether it consists of implements, herds or lands. Excepting personal belongings, women possessed little property and had little incentive to hold property as exclusively their own.

There is a striking difference between the political powers and property rights of men and women, not only in primitive society, but all through history. To point out some fundamental reasons for this divergence will be the purpose of this chapter.

In modern society, we are accustomed to ascribe this divergence in the political status of men and women, to custom, tradition, and the tyranny of one sex over the other. Customs have their roots in habits of life, and habits more often result from a convenience at an earlier stage of culture. Tyranny of one sex over the other—especially of man over woman—is not likely to occur among a peaceable people who show no aggressive qualities, or among a people the women of which outnumber men and apparently possess an equal degree of physical strength. All existing societies as well as all societies of the past that have left traces of their civilization, show the same tendency to place political power in the hands of men, and not in the hands of women. This practice has been so common among all peoples as to suggest some fundamental reason for a social development—apparently so unjust to half the race—other than an inherent conflict of interests, between the sexes. Certainly such a conflict of interests, as some would have us believe, has never existed in the animal world. The reason therefore must be social and not inherent. The injustices arising out of such a social scheme have little in common with the fundamental causes out of which the existing situation arose.

[Pg 98]

It is difficult to trace the relation of primitive economic development to the political status of women since our knowledge of the origin of society, and its early development is very limited. But a vivid picture of the reactions of economic changes upon the political status of women in historical times, is possible as well as suggestive.

Morgan says, “The experience of mankind ... has developed but two plans of government, using the world plan in its scientific sense. Both were definite and systematic organizations of society. The first and the most ancient was a social organization, founded upon gentes, phratries and tribes. The second and the latest in time was a political organization, founded upon territory and upon property. Under the first a gentile society was created, in which the government dealt with persons through their relation to the gens and the tribe. These relations were purely personal. Under the second a political society was instituted, in which the government dealt with persons through their relations to territory, e. g.—the township, the county, and the state. These two relations were purely territorial.”[99]

So long as the government dealt with personal relations and property belonged to small groups of people rather than to individuals, women would naturally be conceded a more conspicuous position. We ourselves, not necessarily from any preconceived notion, but because of the nature of things, associate women more closely with family ties than we do men. This does not mean women, that because of their status within the family group or their relation to the family group, have greater authority in the affairs of the community than men, or that the balance of power rests with them, but that their importance in the social consciousness depends upon where the emphasis is placed.

Morgan accounts for the practice of reckoning descent in the female line to the fact that paternity was uncertain. The women and the children formed a nucleus around which gathered a social organization composed of the female descendants. Women, especially old women, had a voice in the affairs of the gens, but when a leader was chosen the choice invariably fell upon some man.

[Pg 99]

Gentes, tracing the descent in the female line, illustrate the early position of women, and their rights in the beginning of a social organization. But seldom, if ever, do we find women holding so prominent a place as a sex, in the political affairs of the community as men, when political relations were emphasized. This fact is often attributed to the tyranny of man over woman but is it not more reasonable to assume that women found it more convenient, and perhaps more desirable, to leave to the men of their family, whose interests were identical with their own, the exercise of governmental authority?

The transition from the matriarchate to a patriarchate grew out of an appreciation of property. Under the matriarchate property belonged to the gens and was transmitted through the female line. But under the patriarchate property belonged to the family, or to the individual members of the family. “When property began to be created in masses, and the desire for its transmission to children had changed descent from the female line to the male, real foundation for patriarchal power was for the first time established.”[100]

This change resulted from an appreciation of the necessity to keep the property of the family within the tribe, or the community, of which it was a part.

Granting women the same privilege of property as men, under a patriarchal system of government, it would be only a question of time when the property interests of the tribe would lose their unity and compactness, and be scattered broadcast over the land. Such a division of property might have been allowed if individual interests alone were considered and these interests did not interfere with the larger interests of the state.

Daughters marrying into other tribes than their own would carry their property interests with them to the tribe of their husbands and so weaken the economic strength of the former, while increasing that of the latter. To prevent women marrying outside the tribe would have been more difficult than to regulate the transmission of property.

For the preservation of the state, when the state was a small community the members of which were bound together by[Pg 100] mutual interests of defense or offense, it was necessary to restrict the property rights of women. The state that did not do so and allowed the intermarriage of members of its tribe with members of other tribes was destined to extermination. “For my part I find it difficult to believe,” says Vinegradoff, “that the exclusion of women from inheriting and holding land can be the product not of primitive conditions and of an undeveloped state of landholding, but of a gradual restriction of women’s rights. The supposed later restrictions would appear in a very archaic guise, and with too remarkable a concordance among nations which could not have any direct influence on each other.”[101]

The early Germans are often quoted as representing a people among whom women enjoyed a position of near equality with that of men. And yet Ross tells us, “Among the Angli and Werini, the right of inheritance was conceded to daughters only when there were no males left in the clan. The clan consisted of the male descendants of five successive generations. When no male was left within this limit, the clan was, properly speaking, extinct. The clan land might then go to the women, if there were any, and then into the clans wherein they were received as wives.”[102]

While the origin of the distinctions between the property rights of men and the property rights of women may have their roots in the preservation of the large interests of the clan, tribe or state, the custom thus established would tend to be followed in later times irrespective of the applicability to existing conditions. As with many other practices, the fact that it had its roots in the distant past would seem sufficient to justify it.

The political power of women has been a negligible factor in the history of political rights. It is true, as we have seen, that political rights were synonymous with property rights, and that very few men exercised political rights since they were propertyless, but nevertheless where property was a family possession the “spear and spindle distinction” was apparent. “Compare the remarkable customs in regard to the division of property in the ancient Germanic laws. The proper inheritance of[Pg 101] the woman is her gerade (gerath), the household furniture. Norse law puts women back in regard to land inheritance, and points to ‘loose money,’ losa ore, as a natural outfit for them.”[103]

Women’s attitude toward political power differed from that of men where it did exist. When a class of men possess no political rights, it means that such rights inhere in a superior class which assumes a political and often an economic mastery over them. Such has not been true of women in the past. When women possessed no political rights their relationship to the state was consciously or unconsciously involved in the relationships of their husbands to the state.

History offers us an excellent example of this attitude toward the political rights of women in the old Roman patriarchal system which recognized the family as a complete unit, with one common interest, and that interest represented by a recognized head of the household.

We must remember that in the early development of society, political power has rested in the hands of a few individuals who by virtue of individual power, were able to wrest from the many, an authority carrying with it privileges enjoyed primarily by an exclusive governing class. These governmental privileges tend to increase at the expense of the governed until there is a recognition on the part of the people of the injustices practiced. It is then, and only then, that the ruling class defers to the wishes of the ruled. It is the way to preserve their most cherished rights and privileges. We see this state of affairs with the development of towns, and the decline of warfare as the only occupation through which one was enabled to accumulate wealth. The development of industries created a class of people who very soon controlled sufficient wealth to demand a voice in their government. The nobility was in need of the financial aid of the merchant class, and the latter by virtue of their economic strength were able to wrest political privileges from the ruling class.

In considering the political rights of men, there is a tendency to assume that they exercise their present rights in sheer virtue of their manhood, but history shows these rights have arisen out[Pg 102] of a struggle which was economic in its nature. These rights are handed down from one generation to another and are often thought of as natural rights when in reality they are rights fought for and won by an industrial or economic class. Political concessions have been made by one class to the other, not from philanthropic motives, but rather from a recognition of the strength of the claimants. It is only when the battle is virtually won that the opposition grants rights because of their admiration of democratic principles.

The development of industries in the town tended to break up the large landed holdings and to create new forms of wealth. When wealth was no longer associated with a militant career a new adjustment of power had to be made, giving political recognition to the successful industrials who controlled the wealth in the towns. An exchange was effected. The merchants received political privileges, and the noblemen engaged primarily in war, received the financial assistance of the townsmen.

The expansion of the political rights of men shows a gradual increase in the power of the masses. It represents a progressive evolution. It is not so with the political rights of women. Before the era of machine industry, whatever legal recognition women enjoyed, or political rights they exercised, depended not upon their own efforts, but the efforts of the men who desired to protect their property interests, and to prevent these interests from passing outside the family circle.

Although the political rights of women vary in different countries, the evolution of these rights does not show a gradual development of privileges. Rights possessed at one period were lost at another, and at no time do we hear of them making a protest against a diminution of their power, or the narrow limits of their influence. Their part seems to have been a passive one.

No attempt will be made to give a history of the legal and political rights of women, but rather to point out the most striking features of this development, and to emphasize those characteristics in harmony with the general thesis that before the era of machine industry women assumed a passive attitude toward social institutions, and that their status was determined by forces, they made no effort as a class to control.

[Pg 103]

The voice of women in early historical times played no part in affairs which concerned them as a sex because it was never heard.

“In addition to many other objections which may be urged against the common allegation that the legal disabilities of women are merely part of the tyranny of sex over sex, it is historically and philosophically valueless, as indeed are most propositions concerning classes so large as sexes. What really did exist is the despotism of groups over members composing them.”[104]

In the early history of civilization group life was an advantage over individual struggle, and implied the subordination of the interests of the individual to that of the group.[105]

This was especially applicable to women. Protection was essential to women in prehistoric times, and the protection afforded by the group gave greater security than that of a single individual. Protection of the female and her offspring was necessary for a rapid increase of population, and numbers were no small element in determining the success of a tribe in competing with enemies. Those individuals most adaptable to group life had the best chance of surviving and of leaving offspring to whom they transmitted those qualities of character which made subordination no hardship.

In ancient societies we have instances of women exercising the highest function of the state without affecting the status of women in general. They exercised these functions not as a concession to a sex, but because they represented a group which would lose its prestige unless the right to hold the office in question was granted women. Some of the most conservative nations in respect to the advancement of women, and in which the position of women has been least affected by modern radical tendencies, recognize, or have recognized in the past the right of women to the throne.[106]

Whatever rights women possessed as a class grew out of the rights of property. Just as soon as women held property in their own names we find them possessing powers in at least a degree which were attached to the land. “The German custom, which[Pg 104] in general was hostile to women, did not interfere in the matters of property and of heredity. The person having no existence proper in the society of that epoch, and social order being summed up in property alone, the claims of land were always weightier than the claims of person.”[107] And what was true of Germany was true to a considerable extent of all the countries of Europe.

After giving examples of women taking part in the communal assemblies, Ostrogorski asks the question, “Property having in this way become the exclusive basis of the right, and the personality of the owner being henceforth completely disregarded, is not the difference between the sexes an idle distinction?”[108]

Whatever the legal or political rights of an individual or class of individuals may be, the only way to maintain them is to exercise the powers those rights involve. To be indifferent to them, to allow to others the performance of a duty of political or social significance is to invite a deprivation of a right others cherish.

The history of the political and legal rights of women must be traced by taking cognizance of a few individual cases where women exercised rights. This exercise of rights on the part of a few women does not indicate that the practice was universal but rather exceptional. If these rights were based on property, the failure to exercise them on the part of women did not show necessarily a disregard for their property rights, but that their interests were represented by the male members of the family whom they, in all probability, felt confident would guard their interests as well as they themselves could, or, perhaps better, since their knowledge of affairs outside of the household was of broader scope and their judgment based on business-world experience. This cannot be considered a usurpation of rights on the part of men but the recognition of the unity of the family. That it would lead to injustices was not contemplated by those who did not consider final results, but only immediate expediency. Some of the evils arising out of such practice were recognized in special rights extended to widows and spinsters.

[Pg 105]

“As the official maintainer of right and justice, the mayor of Bristol and Exeter, and probably of some other towns, was the guardian of widows and orphans; in the former city a promise to ‘keep, maintain and defend the widows and orphans of this town safely in their rights,’ was a part of the mayor’s oath of office. And in the latter, the duty was so burdensome that a special office, that of chamberlain, was created in 1555, in order to provide for it.”[109]

Women belonged to the family group, and all their interests were centered in the family. So long as their home relations were congenial there was no apparent reason why they should become familiar with the outside world in order to protect their interests since the interests of both parents were identical. These interests represented more nearly a unity of interests than individual interests.

Here again we find convenience playing a large part in determining the respective fields of activity of the two sexes. Custom, convention, and the precepts of the church, although powerful influences in molding social institutions, would have been of little avail if contrary to the convenience of large industrial classes.

Before the era of machine industry, men and women married early as an economic advantage to both, establishing a family group with a recognized division of labor and a concentration of authority. By the concentration of authority is not meant that women were submissive and docile in the household (although such was the prevailing ideal of women at that time) for such submission depends upon the characteristics of the individuals concerned, but male control of matters establishing the relation of the family to the outside world. The passivity of one parent was essential in a relation considering the family all important and the individual of little consequence.

When the occupations of men were of such a nature as to cause a large death-rate among them, the number of unmarried women must have been necessarily large. These attached themselves to the households of relatives, and were in no sense a burden, for as long as the household was an industrial center their[Pg 106] services were acceptable, and their economic relations to the household somewhat similiar to those of the married women.

Those women who did not become part of a household took refuge in religious institutions. In a society where religious feeling is strong, those of the most aesthetic type and susceptible to the incongruities of life would be the first to separate themselves from earthly ties and attempt to live up to their convictions and ideals. Hence many women as well as men, who might have had marked influence in the molding of social institutions devoted themselves to a spiritual and secluded life leaving no offspring to whom they might transmit those characteristics making them superior to the type most adaptable to the prevailing customs of the time.[110] Thus we find religious institutions a check to the propagation of a feminine type which has played an important role in later history.

With the decline of the monastic system, and the breaking up of the domestic system of industry, unmarried women were forced to establish relations to the economic world outside the home similar to those of men. If these women had dedicated themselves to a life of celibacy when they entered the industrial field, as they did when they entered the church, history would show them struggling for legal and political rights in the same manner as men. But the possibility of changing habits of life by marriage, freeing them from a serious economic responsibility prevented the growth of a class conscious spirit which would stimulate them to co-operate in bettering their conditions.

We find the family losing ground as an industrial unit with the development of the factory. Men became more conscious of their social relations outside the home, and came to appreciate the advantage and necessity of social compacts. These changed relations growing out of the new industrial life gave rise to a spirit of democracy which emphasized the importance of the individual and his social relations. It was a large factor in developing the political rights of men and later of women.

The eighteenth century witnessed a crusade for political rights. Practically all the serious thinkers of the day were forced to consider the extension to all men of political rights[Pg 107] which had up to this time been based on high property qualifications. The great material prosperity of northern Europe was at the expense of the laboring classes who were forced to resist or to succumb to hopeless slavery. It was a class struggle and fought out on those lines. Women took an active part in it and were emphatic in their claims for their husbands, sons, and brothers but the literature of the time does not show a consciousness on the part of working women of an antagonism between their interests and those of men.

On the eve of the French Revolution Condorcet made a demand for the political emancipation of women. “In 1789, at election time, several pamphlets appeared demanding the admission of women to the States General, and protesting against the holding of a national assembly, from which half of the nation was excluded.”[111]

The plea for the political rights of women was made on the ground of the rights of equality, but the right to vote was not thought of as an instrument for self protection in the economic world. On the other hand the struggle on the part of men had a real economic basis. It was economic pressure that goaded them to political struggle whereas with women it was merely a declaration of rights expressing the spirit of democracy of the times. Among its adherents were men and women of superior intelligence, but the masses showed the indifference they usually show to claims of abstract rights.

In England the municipal reform act of 1869 gave women votes in all municipal elections. The act of 1870 gave them votes for school boards. The act of 1888, made them voters for the county council. The act of 1894, which transformed the whole system of local government and vastly extended the system of local representation, abolished in all its departments the qualification of sex.[112]

In 1856, over two million women of Great Britain were forced to earn their living and many of these belonged to the upper classes. Few indeed were the occupations open to them. This was not entirely due to the opposition of men but partly to the[Pg 108] inability of women to realize their relations to the industrial world as wage earners. They, as well as the men, in spite of their employment outside of the home, entertained the idea they were not performing their proper function in life, but had failed—perhaps through no fault of their own—to adjust themselves to their proper sphere. So long as the working women held to the ideals of their ancestors they showed little tendency to demand equality between the sexes in the industrial and political world.

It is true men considered women intruders when they sought employment in the skilled industries and professions, but women as a whole were a little more emphatic than the men in the expression of this opinion.

Time is a forceful element in the crystallization of ideas and in giving stability to activities. Public opinion has accepted many of the radical movements of women of the eighteenth century as a matter of fact, and is becoming ever weaker in its opposition to the extension of the political and industrial rights of women.

The movement for the political enfranchisement of women has taken two aspects—the one industrial and the other social.

Of the industrial movement the most striking example at the present time is that in England. They are asking for the suffrage on the ground that they as industrial workers have a serious need for it.

It may seem at first a minor matter as to whether women should vote for the members of parliament since they have the municipal franchise, but it is really of vital importance to the working women. It is parliament which enacts labor laws and legislates for the people in general. Whatever protection the laboring people get through the enactment of laws depends upon the philanthrophy of the wealthy classes, or upon their own representatives. This state of affairs is one of the factors encouraging them to make every possible effort to increase their representation in parliament.

The working women—especially union workers—appreciate this fact and demand the right to vote for the members of Parliament on the ground of their economic well being. It is an economic question with them, and they are evidently willing to[Pg 109] fight for this privilege just as the men were at the time of ‘Chartism.’ Ideas of sex propriety have been cast aside, and the working women are standing as a class, who appreciate their economic relation to society without any regard for the prevalent conception of a ‘woman’s sphere’ which long ago became a myth to them.

It is true that many of their leaders are women of the higher social classes but this same phenomenon has characterized, though not to the same degree, the movements of working men to conquer political rights.

“What in England and America has been the movement of a whole sex, has, in Germany under Social Democracy been merged in the movement of the working class. Women are to have their rights not as a sex, but as workers.”[113]

In France as in Germany the woman’s movement goes hand in-hand with socialism. “There are no distinguished persons to head the movement. It springs from the middle and lower classes and is the outcome of the efforts of a group of enlightened women who, having freed themselves from the prejudices that hedge about their sex, have crowned their emancipation by claiming the vote.”[114]

Europe presents a somewhat different industrial situation from newly settled countries. Class lines are sharply drawn and the element of chance has been largely eliminated in the industrial field. There is little shifting from the lower to the higher classes, so characteristic of newly settled countries. This apparent fixity in social and economic life fosters the development of class consciousness.

In the twentieth century two elements have entered into the struggle for equal suffrage in England. The one is the spirit of democracy claiming equal opportunities for all individuals irrespective of class or sex. The other element is a purely economic one. It is the desire of working women to gain possession of a force that can be used as a weapon of defense and offense in a struggle with the masters of industry.

When women demand the franchise on economic grounds, they[Pg 110] meet with strong opposition. The nature of the demand indicates the importance of the issue at stake. This kind of a demand is never made until the plea on behalf of democracy fails, and the plea for a greater democracy always fails when the material interests of the ruling classes are affected. Political rights fought for on economic grounds, when won, are not quickly lost. The battle creates the spirit of resistance to any encroachments upon rights once won.

When the working women of England obtain the right to vote for the members of parliament on an equality with men, they will unite their political forces with the men in supporting measures in behalf of the working people, and distinction in politics will be lost sight of.

The newer settled countries are conspicuous for the rights granted women. This liberty is not due to the strength of the demand made by women but democratic individualism, and freedom from the tyranny of traditions.

The conservative elements of a society are not the ones to venture into a new country. They remain at home and cherish traditions and customs which color all their thinking. The radical elements in society are the ones to venture to the frontiers and to colonize the new sections of a country. Democracy characterizes their government and individualism their financial undertakings. Hence it is not surprising that the five American states offering women the same political privileges as men are the newly settled states where class lines are so lax as to be almost non-existent, and where the struggle between capital and labor shows more nearly an equilibrium of forces than in the older settled states.

In the western states the number of women engaged in industrial employments outside the home is small when compared with the eastern states. The total number of female breadwinners in Idaho, according to the census report of 1900, was but 14.1 per cent of all the women in the state; Colorado 18.8 per cent; Wyoming 20.8 per cent; and Utah 17.7 per cent. These figures present quite a striking contrast when compared with New York where 49.2 per cent of all the women in the state are breadwinners; New Jersey 46.5 per cent; and Pennsylvania 37.4 per[Pg 111] cent. These figures indicate that women enjoy political privileges in the West irrespective of their economic conditions.

In many of the western states men outnumber women and most women are married and at the head of households. The domestic system of industry is more prevalent than in the large eastern cities, and in sparsely settled communities; the family tends to be a close economic unit. It is reasonable to suppose that the status of women in the West, political, as well as social, is determined, not so much by economic conditions directly, as by the breaking away from an old regime weighed down by traditions and an economic condition favorable to a few.

The strongest opposition to the enfranchisement of women in the West comes from the women who have no economic interests outside the home, and practically no social ones. They are unconscious of any sexual antagonism—and justly so, for the men are markedly indifferent excepting those who feel women may take too deep an interest in questions affecting certain businesses, such as the liquor interests.

It is not only newly settled countries which show a tendency to grant women political rights, but countries where there is a complete change in the governmental regime, either by the throwing off of the tyranny of another country, or the tyranny of a class rule. At such a time women help to create public sentiment and take active part in the struggle to obtain liberty. Under such circumstances a demand for the extension of the franchise, either for men or women is apt to meet with approval along with other measures equally democratic.

The women of the better classes are mostly home makers and cling with a good deal of pride to the ideals of womanhood of an aristocratic society of the past. They do not wish for the franchise and would probably oppose the extension of their political rights. The exercise of the right of the ballot would not tally with the leisure class ideals of the community and would savor of a democracy almost plebian.

As long as women look upon the extension of their political rights from the point of view of individual gain, a large number of them will impede the movement by their opposition and indifference. The reason may be apparently social but it is primarily[Pg 112] economic. Free from any economic responsibilities, and some free from responsibilities of any kind, they see no individual advantage in promoting a measure that would add nothing to their comfort or peace of mind. Their philosophy of life is an individualistic one as well as a selfish one, and their opposition to a progressive movement is not so much a question of confirmed principle as egotistical interests.

Many of them feel absolutely no need for an extension of rights for by virtue of their sex precedence they possess many more rights than any social democracy could afford them.

Many women have been stimulated by a sense of duty to their city and their state to take an active interest in political and civic affairs. On the other hand, there will always be many women just as there are many men who will be indifferent to political issues and who will need the stimulation and suggestion political meetings afford before they take an active part in the political life of the community. It is only then that most people appreciate the significance of a political contest.

The campaign for woman’s suffrage is often an attempt on the part of public-spirited people to utilize the energy and leisure of women on behalf of the common good. They alone have the time to make investigations and to work out problems dealing directly with the physical and moral well being of the community. Most men are interested in politics from an economic point of view, whereas many women are interested from the social point of view since they have no economic interests at stake. They are prepared to devote their time to those civic questions neglected by men, which are of vital importance to the health and intelligence of the citizens.

The evolution of industry out of the home is setting free a vast amount of energy to be expended according to the will of the individual who possesses the leisure. That this surplus energy should not be wasted is of social consequence.

With the development of industry outside the home the productive value of many women’s work is disappearing as well as the spirit of unity of the old-fashioned home. An era of individualism is the consequence.

As fast as people break away from the customs and traditions[Pg 113] of the past, either through a broader outlook afforded by the educational world or economic readjustment, they form groups of individuals as a source of strength. Just as the primitive tribe appreciated the advantage of the increased strength of group life, so do modern industrial and social classes form groups as a means of defense. Out of economic groups have developed social groups with a tendency toward a social state. As we work toward a social ideal, the power of the economic forces grow less in the molding of our social institutions. It is only within the last decade that there has been a conscious effort to control economic forces for the good of all. Heretofore, civilizations and their institutions have reflected the economic life, and the predatory character of the latter made possible the survival only of the most fit economically whether state, tribe, class or sex. The survival of the fittest was not necessarily the survival of the best.

We are rapidly approaching a time when “what is best” is thought of rather than what is fittest to survive. “The best” is that which affords the greatest amount of good to the greatest number. This is not a social philosophy as opposed to individualism, but a social philosophy of individualism. Each individual counts in the general scheme of things and in so far as he counts for good, he counts as an important and indispensable social force not to be neglected.

This is the new philosophy of the age: The poor man claims social rights as well as the rich; the woman as well as the man; and the child more than all the others. All are working for each and each for all.

This is the keynote of the demand for the political rights of women when made by the public-spirited for the sake of the community and the child. It has not grown out of sex hatred or class struggle, or an intolerable oppression of the weak by the strong, but the spirit of a social democracy. On the other hand, the demand as made on a purely industrial basis is part of an industrial struggle. In it are involved elements of class struggle and a revolt of the weak against the oppression of the strong, i. e. the elements which were paramount in the men’s struggle for the franchise. And to these elements is added one[Pg 114] more. The struggle in the past was fought by the men for their families, but so difficult has become the industrial life that each individual, whether man or woman, must fight for himself. It is not social democracy that is impelling women industrial workers to ask for the franchise, but on the contrary an industrial tyranny.

The two are often confused in measuring the status of women of different countries. We can no more assimilate the movement for the enfranchisement of women in England to the movement for the enfranchisement of women in the western section of the United States than we can liken the economic and social status of the negro of the South before the Civil War with that of the negro of the North. The one was a slave to an economic regime and essential to its welfare; the other was a human being with little economic or social significance.

Thus we see in some places the political rights of women asked for on industrial grounds, and fought for as an industrial expedient. Elsewhere the political rights of women are sought on a social basis alone.


[99] Morgan, Ancient Societies, p. 62.

[100] Morgan, Ancient Societies, p. 470.

[101] Vinegradoff, The Growth of the Manor, p. 249.

[102] Ross, The Early History of Land-Holding Among the Germans, p. 67.

[103] Vinegradoff, The Growth of the Manor, p. 249.

[104] Maine, Early History of Institutions, p. 327.

[105] Bagehot, Physics and Politics, p. 24.

[106] Ostrogorski, The Rights of Women, pp. 8-9.

[107] Ostrogorski, The Rights of Women, p. 2.

[108] Ibid, p. 90.

[109] Ashley, Economic History, 11, p. 42.

[110] Lecky, History of European Morals, II, Chap. 5.

[111] Ostrogorski, The Rights of Women, p. 26.

[112] Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, II, pp. 512-513.

[113] Russel, German Social Democracy, Appendix on Social Democracy and the Woman Question in Germany, p. 175.

[114] ‘Feminisme’ in France, Nineteenth Century, p. 816, Nov., 1908.


Our conception of humanity in early race history is associated with a struggle for subsistence. The animal instincts in men predominated and determined their destinies. When these deviated from a safe course, there was extinction. Danger was not encountered for the love of combat—if so man differed from other species—but to ward off a greater danger or to satisfy a hunger which was greater than the fear of forces. Such was the hunger for food and sex. Impulse and fear were the two guiding forces of primitive man, not self-control and reason. The sexual impulse of men was easily aroused while with women it was most often dormant. Thus the latter escaped one form of combat that played a conspicuous part in the race history. They lacked the impulse, and therefore the fear, that helped to make men fighters. The better fighters men were, the less need was there for women to take part in the combat. It was sex instinct which prompted[Pg 115] men to fight for their mates, and it was the same instinct that incited them to protect them after possession had been obtained. Thus by virtue of sex woman gained protection from a hostile outside world, not only for herself but for her offspring.

With possession always goes authority. It meant a great deal to the race for women to be protected during pregnancy and the period of lactation, but in this early protection of the female lay the roots of their later subordinate status. They were free in a measure from the tyranny of the hostile environmental force, but instead subjected to the tyranny of their masters. The latter was the lesser of two evils.

Primitive man was not necessarily brutal to his mate; there exists in all animals a natural deference on the part of the male toward the female—when he showed consideration for his fellow men. It was only when cruelty was a characteristic of man toward all his fellow men, or a distinctive quality of the members of the group in question, men and women alike, that women suffered from brutality.

When prehistoric man showed a tendency to establish a permanent dwelling place, two factors determined the occupation of women. Their offspring looked to them for food which the chase did not always supply; and secondly, they possessed, thanks to the men, leisure and sense of security which made possible the concentration of attention on the industrial arts. Necessity stimulated them to effort, but the security from enemies, at least in a measure, made possible peaceable pursuits that were significant of the beginning of the home.

Women were not averse to this arrangement of occupations, for to them it was the most convenient. To take part in war and the chase would have worked great hardships on the small children who needed much of the mother’s care. The association of women with the hearth is the outgrowth of a natural development having its basis in the convenience of both sexes.

Thus were established habits which in a later day became recognized as sex distinctions. The primitive mother handed down to her daughters the precepts she herself had followed—perhaps on her own initiative, and what was a habit with her became custom and tradition to her children.

[Pg 116]

In early historical times women occupied a sphere industrially, legally, and socially distinct from that of man, differing with different peoples, but sufficiently alike to establish the fact that woman’s position is invariably inferior. In militant types of society the contrast between the status of men and women is most marked, whereas these differences grow less as the occupations of both men and women incline toward industrialism. Strength or weakness in combat determined the status of the individual, class or sex when combat was the chief occupation of men.

Although in general women were physically weaker, and out of their weakness arose, possibly, sex tyranny, family ties were close, and by virtue of relationship individual women often exercised authority. This shows sex alone was not always sufficient to deprive women of all power.

In the early Roman days, their position was recognized by the state as distinct from any rank applicable to men. Men were graded from the highest position of respect in the state, to the lowest conceivable; from absolute authority to abject slavery. Women were destitute of authority as a sex, but individually the state recognized their rights as involved in the rights of the family. They received the rank of their husbands, but in a lesser degree, when they had no claim to the rank by virtue of any inherent power or ability of their own. While as a sex they had no voice in the state, the law-makers feared them when they were closely related to superior officers.

When war declined and agriculture assumed greater importance, the family became a close social and economic unit with recognition of a division of work between the sexes. Women, while still working in the fields tended to leave the out-door work to men, and to confine themselves more exclusively to in-door work. This might have been considered a concession to the sex, for only among the poorest people did women continue to hold their own in the field. Undoubtedly women thought it was to their advantage to be able to confine their efforts to work close to the hearth. Here we have another example of convenience as responsible for the division of labor between men and women.

From the dawn of the industrial era men made inroads upon the industrial sphere of women, and while they seemed to assume[Pg 117] those tasks most desirable from a modern point of view, nevertheless those tasks were the ones most conveniently relinquished by the women. The change was a mutual advantage and not necessarily a consequence of the arbitrary exercise of authority. Women’s interests were concentrated on industrial occupations only in so far as these occupations furthered the well-being of their families, and just as soon as they were able to shift the responsibility to others, they did so gladly, for by so doing they were brought closer to the fireside and their children.

Before the introduction of machine industry, the home of the working people stood for an economic unit as well as a social one. Women left the field for indoor work, and as soon as there existed a surplus of labor out-of-doors, they once again divided their employments with the men, the latter taking over those tasks allowing for the greatest play of skill and inventiveness, and most completely divorced from personal service. These became the textile industries and paved the way for the industrial revolution, and the substitution of machine work for hand work. Women drew their work instinctively closer to the hearth; men away from it.

Hardly the most able men according to the estimate of the time were the ones to leave the fields for a new line of work. What probably happened was that those men physically deformed or otherwise handicapped in the out-of-door work, were relegated to the fireside to assist the women. It was their specialization and concentration that made them excel in their art and bring it to a higher state of perfection than women had. Undoubtedly they were looked down on by men, and their social position was similiar to that of the tailor only a few generations ago. Literature affords us many a merry gibe at the expense of the man who earned his bread with his needle, and only recently has he taken his place in the trades on an equality with others.

When machine industry replaced hand industry a revolution was started that has not yet ended. Instead of all social and economic forces molding the home into a more compact unit, they tend to disintegrate the home and to force its dependent members from its industrial shelter.

[Pg 118]

It was at this time that great suffering was endured. The family compact had gained industrial strength by virtue of the combination, but when each individual member of that family was forced to seek a place in an industrial regime, many of them became victims of a new order they were powerless to control. Men, women, and children flocked to the factories for work, and in return for their services received a mere pittance in comparison with the economic advantages of the old economic life. Where there existed poverty, before, now dwelt misery and desolation. Men could not protect their wives and children from killing toil and although their memories carried them back to better days, they now became part of the procession of the hopelessly poor.

What happened in the warring communities of primitive times now took place in industrial communities. The old economic groups had been broken up and no readjustment taken place. Hence, each individual was forced to fight his battle and his success depended upon his own efforts. It was the predatory spirit let loose in an economic guise. The combat was more brutal in that the vanquished ones were not slain on the field but left to die in damp cellars.

As in history the status of women depended upon the status of their husbands. As a sex they asked for nothing but bread for themselves and their families. Their new economic position in the factory was supposed to be a temporary make-shift only, and their failure to recognize its permanency was perhaps one reason why all their demands were demands for the men—a chance for their husbands to support their families independent of their wives.

Little change has been effected in their status since the industrial revolution excepting an increase in their numbers in the factories. So many of them lack sufficient nourishment or leisure or power to help themselves—the same applies to the men—that they are seemingly powerless even at the present time to change their lot. The effort is coming from another class which has been far more fortunate in its economic adjustments.

The hopelessly poor are the victims of our industrial regime. Just ahead in the social scale are the middle class workers. It[Pg 119] is in their homes a favorable readjustment to the new economic conditions can be found. With the departure of each occupation from the home came an expansion of wants. A greater variety of food and clothing increased the kinds of work women performed. They were just as busy as when they wove and spun. If new economic problems had not arisen out of the fact that men did not receive adequate compensation for their labor to warrant a higher plane of living in the home, the women of this class would not have been compelled to change their habits of life to any extent. In many families of the middle-class, women’s work in the household has little money value unless performed in the household of another. It is when the men of the household are out of work that the small economic importance of women’s work to the family is manifest. It most often does not satisfy the primary needs for food and shelter of those about them. Here lies the essential difference between the work of the modern housewife and that of the housewife of the era before machine industry. This difference is constantly increasing and making the family more dependent for its support upon employment outside the home. As an institution the home is becoming one of sentiment alone, and not one of economic expediency.

Women’s work in the home is rapidly becoming a luxury, and less of a necessity; and unless a different economic regime is brought in, women will be compelled to add to the incomes of the families or marriage will become a luxury of the well-to-do alone. Either men of the middle-class must receive an ever increasing wage or the women engage in money-gaining occupations.

It is true many women resist the removal of all productive industry from the home to the factory, but it is like resisting a glacial movement down a mountain side. The home must adapt itself to the change to save itself. When the home no longer possesses economic value, when marriage “means a doubling of expense and the halving of income, the accountability of one person for the welfare of another, and the certainty of no resource if the sole wage earner falls by chance into the abyss of[Pg 120] the unemployed,” people will not so readily enter into a relation which involves so great a responsibility and sacrifice.[115]

The number of marriages is decreasing, but the number of married women following professional pursuits is also increasing. If men are more timid than formerly in assuming matrimonial ties, or if women show as great a timidity in entering into a relation that promises hardships arising out of their complete economic dependence, the progress married women are making in the skilled industries and other lines of work compatible with their conception of their social status, will prove a large factor in restoring confidence in the mutual helpfulness made possible by marriage and tend to check the decrease of the marriage-rate.

The decline of the birth-rate is a more serious problem. A large infant mortality prevails the world over and no effective means have been found to prevent this great sacrifice of life. Indeed the decrease of the birth-rate is comparatively small when compared with the waste of life by infantile diseases. If only some means were found to prevent this waste the decrease in the birth-rate would be one more illustration of the great economy in pain and suffering achieved by an advanced civilization. The real alarming thing is not a general decrease in the birth-rate but a decrease applying to the better social classes alone. The latter are made up of individuals who have enjoyed the advantages of our social institutions. If their superiority can be traced to their natural superiority rather than to their opportunities, made possible by their economic status, there exists genuine reason for alarm; but if humanity after all is much alike the world over, and the differences between types are due to opportunity, no better means can be found to meet the problem than by affording a wider diffusion of the benefits of a higher civilization. To bring this about cities must be made sanitary places in which to live and extreme poverty must be eliminated from the child’s environment.

The decrease of the importance of women’s work in the home is not alone responsible for the changes in their status but also the modern close intercommunication of cosmopolitan groups[Pg 121] made possible by modern industrial methods in the business world. The close relations existing between individuals and groups of individuals who have not always lived in the same environment, or the same kind of an environment stimulates many new desires and human faculties which might have remained dormant were the individual shut off from the close relations with the outside world.

One of the results of this interaction is a disregard for the social barriers of the past, and a leveling of educational and social opportunities so that they are within the reach of a constantly increasing number of men and women alike.

A desire for invidious distinction is a marked motive in man. He desires to excel others, at least those in his class, in the pursuits which give precedence in the eyes of others. If he has not the financial means at hand to excel with a degree of ease, he will make every possible sacrifice to maintain at least the standards of the class with which he is associated.

When the family was a close economic unit, and high class barriers existed there was little opportunity for mutual stimulation. The natural characteristic of responsiveness to suggestion was held in check by the customary standards of one’s class. Such is not true under the factory regime. The individual has access to any class so far as his economic resources and leisure permit. Hence a free play of the imitative faculty, which often takes the form of a blind imitation of the recognized superior in invidious distinction—the accepting of standards from the class above irrespective of their merits.

This is especially characteristic of women and is given expression in expensive dress, furniture, and ability to purchase services. Women show the imitative faculty to a greater degree than men for they have more leisure. Leisure above all things is most conducive to the development of desires suggested by the plane or expenditure of the class above.

The development of industry has created a vast amount of new wealth, and women more than men have profited by the great increase of productivity. Their leisure is being increased rapidly and when their men-folk are prosperous they can afford to gratify wants without taking into consideration their ultimate[Pg 122] good. Hence women of leisure tend to form a procession of imitators, each according to her inclinations and financial standing.

The initiative faculty is a virtue when appealed to by progressive social ideals, but is a menace when it signifies an insane procession of clothes, mission furniture or oriental rugs. It is then the stuffy flat in the heart of the city is preferred to the cottage in the suburbs. In some, this inclination to follow fashion seems to grow with the increased means of communication. A childlike faith that good models will be imitated rather than bad ones is akin to the laissez faire philosophy that has so ignominiously failed. It is of the utmost importance that social ideals should be consciously molded.

The effect of economic changes upon the status of women have been many. They have forced and are still forcing an ever increasing number of women into the factories to compete with each other in the poorest paid field of labor. The homes of these women are a disgrace to civilization. It is seldom that the comforts or the decencies of life can be found there. These same economic forces are making it possible for many middle class workers to better their financial and social condition but they threaten the masses with poverty or the necessity of the wives entering the industrial field with their husbands. They have also made possible a widening leisure on the part of many women whose husbands are successful business men. Never in history were there so many idle women.

Only the rich and the poor who are adjusted to economic conditions can afford to marry. The one class has no fear for the future, the other class has no hope. It is in the large middle class retaining social ideals and struggling to adapt itself to changing conditions with as little sacrifice as possible, where one can best measure the effects of economic changes. It is there parents appreciate the necessity of giving their children educational advantages superior to their own. Each generation expects more of the past than the last, and what is true of individuals is true of institutions. There is a growing demand for more highly trained men and women. Hence parents appreciate the necessity of limiting the size of the family in order to meet the increased demands made upon them.

[Pg 123]

Each individual adjusts himself as best he can to his economic life, and his economic life tends to be the center of his social life. When the former changes, the change is reflected in the latter and the sum total creates a social consciousness reflected in the existing social institutions.

It is doubtful if women as a sex will ever reach the same economic and social status as men. Individual women, especially certain unmarried ones, will do so but as representative of a class in society rather than sex.

Unless some radical changes take place in society we now little dream of, the majority of women will prefer home life to active industrial careers. This will be made possible in part by the inherent gallantry of men, and a social conscience which will make fewer economic demands upon the mothers of the race than upon the fathers.

Whether one half of the race can support the other half will never be tested, for there will always be a large army of women, married and single, who will prefer their economic independence to any form of co-operation in housekeeping.

The question resolves itself ultimately into whether the average man will in the future be able to support a family without the financial assistance of his wife; and whether society can afford, either industrially or morally, to support an increasing number of idle women. The question will be solved by one of two forces and probably by both. These are economic necessity and our educational institutions. To prophesy the effects of these forces upon the status of women in the future, it would be necessary to assume that these forces themselves are in no immediate danger of undergoing radical changes. The assumption would be wrong, for the atmosphere is charged with discontent with the present economic conditions. When the latter are sufficiently controlled to assure a measure of contentment among the people the home will adjust itself like any other adaptable institution.

Many of the responsibilities formerly associated with the home are now performed by the state municipality. This changed condition is especially noticeable in the care and education of children. The functions of the state are no longer confined[Pg 124] exclusively to police powers, but aim through constructive legislation to bring about industrial and social conditions conducive to the welfare of all its citizens.

Through its educational policies it is possible for the government to so regulate and develop the institutions of society as to minimize some of the evils arising out of modern economic life, and to direct social ideals which will reflect themselves in the industrial habits of man.

The home and all allied institutions show the influence of economic habits, and whatever changes take place in the latter—whether resulting from a conscious social influence or a laissez-faire policy in industry—will in time make themselves felt in the former. The home comes nearer being an expression of the industrial development of mankind than any other institution of society.


[115] Patten.

[Pg 125]


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Starr, Frederick. Some First Steps in Human Progress. Meadville (Penn.), 1895.

Transcriber’s Notes

Errors and omissions in punctuation have been corrected.

Page 16: “militant actvities” changed to “militant activities”

Page 20: “enjoyed ahe” changed to “enjoyed the”

Page 21: “Mommson says, ” changed to “Mommsen says,”

Page 24: “similiar occupations” changed to “similar occupations”

Page 32: “some meassure” changed to “some measure” “less disasterous” changed to “less disastrous”

Page 38: “nor the benificiaries” changed to “nor the beneficiaries”

Page 40: “in no covent” changed to “in no convent”

Page 42: “The wires of the men” changed to “The wives of the men”

Page 46: “a rare occurance” changed to “a rare occurence”

Page 54: “cultural opportunites” changed to “cultural opportunities”

Page 59: “greater the opportunties” changed to “greater the opportunities”

Page 63: “It it felt” changed to “It is felt”

Page 64: “especial in the smaller” changed to “especially in the smaller”

Page 73: “it is posible” changed to “it is possible”

Page 80: “Westermark thinks” changed to “Westermarck thinks”

Page 81: “in simply astounding” changed to “is simply astounding”

Page 92: “Great Britian” changed to “Great Britain”

Page 93: “the case with which a man” changed to “the ease with which a man”

Page 94: “at all hazzards” changed to “at all hazards”

Page 99: “were indentical” changed to “were identical” “to a patriachate” changed to “to a patriarchate”

Page 104: “considered a ursurpation” changed to “considered a usurpation” “were recorganized” changed to “were recognized”

Page 110: “spirit of resistence” changed to “spirit of resistance”

Page 116: “the contract between the status” changed to “the contrast between the status”

In a few spots, quotations from original sources had small transcription errors, which were corrected where possible according to the original source.

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