From a Sister of Martha
No, I do not believe that Martha’s troubles arise from fear. There may be many of her sisters who are restrained by fear from trying new ways of living. But there are also many of us who, though ready to dare much, can find no time for the attempt: we are bound by the clock, by inevitable need of hours for sleep and food, the ordering of our households, the care of our children, the entertainment of our families and friends. And while, in many homes, it may be possible to systematize all the activities of life so that Martha has certain hours free to use as she sees fit, they are so limited in number, and so liable to curtailment because of unforeseen emergencies in the family life, that they are of little practical value.
My situation is typical of that of most of my friends. Only in minor details does it vary from thousands of cases in America. Those thousands, you may object, are, after all, a small fraction of the population and not of vital importance. But they represent a potential energy that is being ignored and lost as surely as electrical power is lost in undeveloped water-falls.
Here is my case. I went to school from the time I was ten until I was graduated from college at twenty-two. During that time I was either in coeducational schools, working directly with boys, or in the girls’ college of a great university, working under the same professors who gave courses for men. My training was in most respects identical with that of the men I knew. During this time I went to dances and theatres, took a great interest in athletics, and spent the summers in the country with my family, including a brother. While I doubtless viewed things from a ‘feminine’ standpoint, most of my interests were the same as those of my brother and his friends.
I had been taught that marriage offered the probable and most desirable future for me. My mother doubtless had a feminine desire to see her daughter attractive and popular. My father, though he wanted me to be capable of taking care of myself, was not averse to seeing my future assured. The theory I gathered from study in zoölogy and sociology led to the conclusion that marriage and reproduction were the logical culmination of life. I was a perfectly normal sort of girl. So that there was never any question in my mind as to the desirability of marriage.
When I left college, I started out to get a little practical experience in the world before I ‘settled down.’ I began in a clerical position, from which I was advanced rather rapidly to statistical work of great interest and of considerable responsibility. I worked hard, with a perfectly honest enthusiasm for the work, and I took due satisfaction in the monthly check that rewarded my efforts. I matched my wits against those of the men and women among whom I worked. I was not doing original, creative work; I was doing work that was laid out for me to do; but I was doing it rapidly and well — and I loved it.
During the first year of my married life my husband was in the army; 1 continued my office-work, and we did light housekeeping in a tiny apartment. When he went back to his civilian position, I dropped my outside work and set up housekeeping in earnest. I know how, and I find it easy to run our establishment comfortably and well. We have many friends, a comfortable income, everything to make us happy.
And yet my mind will reach and grope for something more. My theories have not changed, but my needs have become more apparent. I am not particularly regretful of the salary I used to draw. Neither do I begrudge any time or effort I may devote to bringing up children, for I thoroughly believe that anything else I might do would be futile and insignificant compared to my achievement if I shall succeed in bringing up a fine family.
But I cannot help questioning — what of me? I am twenty-seven. By the time I am forty, I shall have had ample opportunity to bear my children and start them on their way. After they are in school, they are out of my life for certain hours of every day. Must I look forward to filling those hours with dish-washing and cooking and darning stockings? Must my mind, which has been productive in the past, give up all hope of the future? Will my added years mean only a rusty slowness of brain, a loss of technical skill, an ‘out-of-dateness’ that will be a permanent handicap. It seems as if those years of maturity and experience should add to my ultimate intrinsic value rather than detract from it. A man of forty is approaching the height of his business power. Shall I, at forty, be of no possible use to business, industry, or education? If I am willing to give my youth to building up the race, has the race no use for my middle age?
I have been trained for two ends, one social and physiological, the other professional and mental. It seems to me that I ought to be able to accomplish both ends, not simultaneously, but one after the other. It is wasteful to let the professional training, ability, and experience be definitely discarded because I am facing the other duties first. I could not let them wait. One must bear children when one is young. Having done so surely need not preclude using one’s mental powers for commercial or educational ends when one is older.
It is absurd to say t hat it is sex fear that holds us back. It is inherent sex loyalty that is urging me on to my duty as it lies clearly before me. But beyond that duty stretch years when I shall have free hours, which might be used. All I ask is the hope for work for those hours. My husband will share my interest in the family, the responsibility of feeding and training it, without giving up his work. I admit that the situation demands my time at home now. But I can give it gladly, if I have ahead of me the assurance of future opportunity for my work.
I am not crying for the moon. I am not begging jewels and servants and luxury — only the opportunity to do the things I have learned to do well, and to earn the just reward for doing them. I do not want a future of bridgeplaying and miscellaneous committee meetings. I want to concentrate my effort and get into the fight. I have learned the thrill of competition. You take it away from me forever. Open a door at the other end of this phase of my life, and show me something beyond the round of petty duties that hems me in. Give me a future to look forward to, and I will cease to sit waiting for that ‘car that is indefinitely late and whose destination is unknown.’