As to Women's Clubs
THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
IT cannot be denied that there exist people who believe that the masculine half of mankind has considerably the best of life. To be frank, I think so myself.
The question, which of women’s alleged disadvantages has operated the most seriously against her, is one of individual opinion. For myself, living as I have done in a village of small size and few diversions, the thing I have resented most, hated most, has been, and is now, that it is not possible, that it never has been possible, for me to hie me with my menfolk to the village store, or to the shoemaker’s shop, or to the railing of the old creek bridge, every evening of my life, and talk.
Not a very high ambition, say you. Well, perhaps not! Yet I fancy most women will know what I mean, and will understand that in my long quarrel with fate it has not been alone the pleasure and variety of this frequent matching of wits that I have deplored, but that, along with these, I have seemed to see slip by a wider view, a broader mind, and a mental stimulus both healthy and cheering.
Take these menfolk of mine! In the pauses of gossip and of yarns old and new, they have more or less thoroughly exploited, take it the year round, every event of importance that has occurred on the face of the earth during their entire lives; and echoes of the past and portents of the future have not been lacking. Here they have forged their beliefs, and here they have nerved themselves to action. No wonder I have envied them! Nothing like it ever came into the life of any woman since the world began.
It could n’t, you know; there has not been time. Things at home had to be looked after even if the menfolk did become — patriots and heroes. The babies, you see, had to be born, yes, and reared and fed; the food had to be prepared, the dishes washed, the clothes made and mended, the house looked after, and all the other odd jobs done that nobody wanted to do. This, you will admit, has taken time, lots of time, all the time of nineteen-twentieths of all the women who have ever lived, some one says. And, whilst I am the last to suggest that it has turned out so badly, either for the woman or for the race she has reared, I must yet insist that, as a rule, it has been DULL for the woman!
Of course she has had some diversions. Between breaths, as it were, and with the chance hanging over her that her bread or her babies would bum up in her absence, she has yet always been able to invent an excuse to slip over to her neighbor’s kitchen, and gossip awhile. And a saving grace it has been to her. Moreover, in my opinion, it is out of these pleasant gossips in the kitchen that the Woman’s Club has been evolved, and by a process as truly scientific as any celebrated by Mr. Darwin himself. For — do you not see — being one day unusually strong minded, as well as in a rebellious mental state, it dawned upon the woman that she could take an hour off regularly, say once a week. Promptly she inspired her neighbor to think the same. At first she justified her new departure by devoting her precious hour to sewing for the heathen. Becoming bolder, and a trifle tired of the heathen, she looked around for more congenial employment and found it in considering ways and means for reforming the habits of her menfolk; in reading a book with others; in financing a church or a hospital; in studying Shakespeare or Browning; in giving aid or advice as to needed reforms in state or city. And lo! the Woman’s Club was born!
Now there is no doubt that she has been amazed at the discovery which she presently made, that the avowed object of the existence of the Woman’s Club, whatever that object might be, bore small relation to the measure of its real value to her. For it is not through the flannel petticoats for the heathen, nor through the drunkards saved, nor through the cleaner streets, not even through her delight in her new mental development, that its great benefit to her has appeared. No! It has come in a subtler way. It has come through the meeting with others in an absolute equality; through escaping altogether the old familiar round; through that immaterial, ineffable something that comes of the appreciation of others; through the new things to think about; through the rough corners rubbed off; through the truer valuation that comes of wider knowledge. And, as a result, suddenly, unexpectedly, for the first time in history, the woman finds things beginning to be evened up; finds she can begin to look her menfolk, even her own menfolk, in the eye, with something of the equality that a dawning comprehension of her gifts, as well as of her graces, gives her.
Now, if the Woman’s Club can do this one thing, this one most desirable thing, and for the women who need it the most, it is my contention that it does not matter how it goes about it; that no matter if it does make mistakes, no matter how much it overestimates its influence, nor how much too seriously it takes itself, in its inexperience; if the Woman’s Club can do this one thing, I say, the least the world can do is to stand off and allow it to do its work in its own way and in its own time.