The Club Woman's Burden


I CALL it the Club Woman’s burden, though it is not peculiarly hers, but is carried by all women who sit in public places to-day. I refer to that “ bulwark, highreared to stand before our faces,” the Modern Hat. I think Shakespeare must have had a vision of the fashionable hat of to-day, and who knows how far he may be held responsible for its size, for Petruchio says to the haberdasher when Katherine’s cap is presented to him for approval, —

“ Why, this was moulded on a porringer;
A velvet dish ....
Away with it! come, let me have a bigger.”

And the Katherine of that day makes answer as all willful Katherines have answered since, —

“ I ’ll have no bigger : this doth fit the time ;
And gentlewomen wear such caps as these.”

Many a “ velvet dish ” have we seen this season, but never a porringer among them.

Having precipitated trouble by inviting it, man-fashion, Petruchio casts about for the easiest way of ridding himself of it. “ Off with that bauble, throw it under foot,” he says to his Katherine; and many a Katherine finds her precious “ bauble ” under foot to-day in spite of her utmost endeavor to prevent such catastrophe.

I wonder, since custom demands that woman shall wear a hat as she goes to and fro, and since every gentlewoman, on arriving at her destination, feels that courtesy, if no higher power, demands the removal of the hat if it obstructs any person’s view, that some woman has not demanded, in sheer self-defense, to say nothing of appreciation of her neighbor’s point of view, that a hat should be evolved for her which should be all that the most fastidious woman could desire in the way of head-gear, and yet not remain a public nuisance.

Man has a collapsible dress-hat. Why should n’t woman, whose need is equally urgent ? A man takes his dress-hat in both hands, taps it gently against his immaculate shirt front, and behold! he has in his hand a “ porringer.” This may not be the usual method of crushing his hat, but I have seen a man do it so and envied the man.

A small hat does not solve the woman’s problem, not if it has on it so much as a quill fastened at an angle. You have heard the story of the man in one of our theatres who called an usher and, pointing to a lady in front of him, demanded irately, “ Are n’t women obliged to remove their hats in this theatre ? ” “ Yes, sir,” replied the usher respectfully. “Well, then,” said the man, still pointing at the offending lady. “ That ain’t a hat, sir; them’s puffs and an aigrette,” said the still respectful usher.

Now I have had a man whose head was absolutely guiltless of “ puffs and an aigrette ” cut off my view of a speaker as completely as any hat, big or little, I ever sat behind; but it is of no use to say, “Off with his head,” so the solution of this problem lies not here.

I said to a friend recently, “ I wish women would all go without hats to public places where their removal is expected, and wear a scarf or something easily removed. So few do, and one dislikes to be conspicuous.”

“ Goodness,” she replied impatiently, “if I wanted to, I would, whether other people did or not. I’ve reached an age when I can be independent.” I, alas! have passed it.

At a recent meeting of a guild to which I belong, the president having repeatedly, and in vain, besought the ladies to remove their hats, made one final appeal.

Remarking that all ladies over sixty might keep theirs on. Did most of the hats come off? No indeed! Why? Because, while women do not in the least object to owning up to sixty years if they have that many behind them, most of them do object with all their being to feeling sixty, — and worse yet, looking like sixty, as they invariably find they do on reaching home when they have held their hats in their laps a whole afternoon and then been obliged to put them on in the dark, as it were.

Personally, I think, if I had succeeded in keeping my hat in my lap I should not feel so strongly on this subject, but if I am so unfortunate as to be obliged, in getting to my seat, to struggle by several ladies, who, out of due regard to those behind them and their own comfort, have their hats, their furs, and their wraps piled in front of them, in my struggle I take a part of their belongings with me, never with malice aforethought, as might occasionally be suspected, but just because I cannot help it. Once seated, I begin to build my pile, but of necessity so insecurely that at the first unguarded movement my “ bauble ” is underfoot. I stoop cautiously to pick it up, only to find that in the process I have dropped something else. My neighbor politely endeavors to help me, we stoop together, bump our heads, rise and apologize with heightened color, and I settle back hopefully, only to discover that my hat-pins have disappeared. In wrath and desperation I mutter to myself sentiments which I would not wish to repeat in these columns, and decide to let them go. “ What difference does it make ? ” I quote. But! they are my cherished pins. So, pretty soon I begin to feel around surreptitiously with my feet, — I am ashamed to do more,—finally find them, clamp them down for the rest of the afternoon, and at its close I am ready to say with Marianna, “ I am aweary, aweary, I would that I were dead.”

If any one thinks my tale of misery overdrawn, I solemnly assert that more and worse has happened to me many times.

My aim has been to present the point of view of the woman who persists in keeping her hat on when she shouldn’t, in spite of all that is said in public and in private about her selfishness and lack of consideration of the rights of others. Few women choose to belong to this class — but “ all women wear such caps as these ” is their plea, and they have not the courage to be individual and independent.

I have not presented this matter as effectively as I could wish, and an old story (but new to me) that I heard recently has in it a consoling suggestion. “ How do you do, Mrs. Flaherty,”said Mrs. Doherty. “Not that I care a dom, but it makes talk.”

If we talk enough on this subject, even the dullest of us, some bright woman may be driven to finding a solution of the vexing problem. I was moved to my choice of subject by my experience on a recent Sunday when, though I sat well forward in church, I did not see the minister once during the service. After church I told him so, and he remarked sadly, “ My dear lady, I do not see half my congregation on Sunday mornings.”

When it comes to that, something should be done about it.

Shakespeare showed his keen insight into one trait of woman’s nature never more keenly than in the conversation between Katherine and Petruchio before quoted, when, in response to his demand for a “ bigger,” she says, —

“ I ’ll have no bigger: this doth fit the time,
And gentlewomen wear such caps as these.”

When some modern gentlewoman finds a cap which “ doth fit the time,” all gentlewomen will wear it.

When some of us were children we had what we called “ Sunday clothes.” May we not at least, out of regard for our minister, in old-fashioned parlance, have Sunday hats which shall fit the time and place ?