The Women's Clubs

A MUCH perturbed mind claims the privilege of the anonymity of the Contributors’ Club to use the time-honored method of finding out what she thinks by writing an article about it. It’s about the Women’s Clubs.

Being of a curious turn of mind, and somewhat abnormally interested in whatever is spectacular, my imagination was aroused by seeing in print early last year that “Boston would be taken possession of by an army of 800,000 women in June, 1908.” So satisfying was this mental vision, — 800,000 women occupying the trolley cars of Boston in beautiful but broiling June,—that I rested there for a time before I needed to be informed that what was really to happen was a convocation of the representatives of the membership of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Then my interest became scientific, and I went seriously about investigating what I am assured is a significant modern “movement.” First, I studied the General Federation. I found that it is made up “of Women’s Clubs, State Federations, Territorial Federations, National Societies and kindred organizations.” In its charter it is stated to be “for educational, industrial, philanthropic, literary, artistic and scientific culture,”and a medium of communication for “the various Women’s Clubs throughout the world.”It is supported by annual dues assessed according to the membership of clubs.

“ Seems, Madam, nay, I know not seems,” was the substance of the answers I have had to my inquiry, “ What does the General Federation seem to do most ? ” The pursuit of culture had not appeared to be uppermost in their public meetings. Tabulating the nebulous negatives of all my correspondence, I find that there are certain committees that represent definite propaganda, all honorable to their hearts and heads, and at the biennial meetings these committees present a report of their activities, — correspondence, petitions, amateur investigations, and occasional descents on legislative halls; that they are represented at the meetings by a “specialist,” and an address is made by him, looking to arouse interest that shall be loosed upon the single club by the returned delegate.

Up to 1902 the Federation had been in process of “building; ” “ to perfect its organization” had absorbed the real energy of its members. Since 1904 further changes have been made, so that it is now regarded as a “complete organism.” It has a system of correspondence, with a sort of clearing-house for information, and is the custodian of its own history. It has its monthly journal. It looks to have a General Federation course of study. Yet, to my repeatedly asked question regarding what it seems to accomplish, came the answer, “Seems, Madam, nay, I know not seems; it is.”

A persistence in mere being is praiseworthy, and I can see it so, but I also see, when I look upon this admirable organism, a thing having perpetual motion between New York and San Francisco, running and rumbling, and never stopping. It occasions much tending and nursing, and some soothing, but, alas, I know that a machine wears out when it runs and does n’t make anything. This is true of even the human machine that runs and doesn’t make anything—but speeches. Because I like this machine, I try to find out what it makes.

Finally, I asked my question, in terms of “ make,” of a much-badgered clubwoman, and she snapped me the quick answer, " Make! it tries to make clubs and club-women do their duty.” Now I seem to perceive. The General Federation is the preceptress of this extensive school, correspondence school, and the clubs and club-women are the scholars. What I must do is to ask the scholars about the teacher. I visited many clubs and asked always, ‘ ‘What does the General Federation do for your club?” The answers of one president are typical. “ It does very little. We were a club with, our own ways before we joined the Federation, and now, although we feel that we ought to belong to federations, our members do not like to be bothered with federation literature. My desk is full of appeals to the club from the various committees, and I have n’t brought any before the club, for one is as important as another. And our club-women are impatient at having the time necessary to consider these questions taken from the regular programme.”

“But are n’t you coöperating with the aims of the General Federation ?” would be my somewhat surprised next question.

“No, only indirectly and as any particular person may be interested. You see we have our community interests and our lectures and you know how little time there is.”

“Then how is the work done that the General Federation seems to be doing? ”

“Why, I don’t know; you see they have their own committees and really you know there is n’t time for everything. Excuse me, please, I see my social committee is waiting. We are planning our annual reception to the Federation officers.”

“ Why,” I tried to ask of her vanishing presence, “why are you willing to entertain the Federation, and yet refuse to entertain their ideas ? Why can you give cakes and ale, and why can’t you give information ? ”

One who ponders insufficient data is liable to error in conclusions. But when they are all the data one can get, the reflective mind will ponder. I could not easily dispel my earlier conclusion of school and pupil, — it was something to go on. In reviewing certain pedagogical relations I come upon the school that is popular and richly supported, but its curriculum is not its attraction; that lies in some subtle quality—a quality that makes men want to be of its alumni with as little of ils scholastic regimen as possible. So club-women want to be a part of the Federation, but they don’t want to be too much bothered with its direct aims. If I were speaking only of myself as a club-woman, I should liken the impulse to have and to hold a membership in this great organization to the irresistible instinct that brings a little boy to the circus before it is anywhere near time for the parade to start. If anything is going to happen, he wants to be a part of it. How endearing is Cicero in his naive conclusion of the whole matter: “All of which I saw, and part of which I was.”

“The Federation may become a mighty factor in the civilization of the century, if wielded as a whole,— an army of builders, ready, alert, systematic, and scientific, not only a potent force in this generation, but transmitting to the next a vigor and strength which has never been given by any race of women to their inheritors.” Now, there is a glimmer of light illuminating this mystical relation. The imagination is stirred by the promise of this hopeful organism. It. is seen to be in the realm of the probable that, although built in uncertainty, this creation of modern womanhood is likely to be of determining authority in future conditions. To them who had the audacity to conceive, the inspiration to nurture, and the tenacity to persist, will come great gifts and high honor. The organization will become a social institution, and blind, indeed, would she be who neglected to catch the skirts of it, and be a part of whatever future it may have.

Questions in terms of “to seem ” or ‘ ‘to make ’ are not germane. The verb is wrong. It is a question of movement. The Federation is a procession, a triumphal progress. It is going on its way toward that ultimate state that many women see to be the perfect human condition — a state where the leisure, the intelligence, the beneficent rule, is all theirs and man is the industrial machine. It would be purblind not to go along with it: so touching hands together, and in the step of the immortal dance of Pan we go on singing relevantly,—

“ We don’t know where we ’re going,
But we ’re on the way.”