In our age the large majorities still stand for the Fireside as the center of this great world. As for woman, wherever she goes and whatever her mission — for travel or for service — her native instincts draw her homewards.
She may have unusual power and be distinguished for versatility; she may have artistic ability and attain distinction on the stage or in the studio; she may make bargains behind the counter or “be mighty in ledger and great upon ‘Change”; she may be serve as a shop-girl, toil as a field-hand or in factory, be typewriter, ticket agent, street car conductor; she may wrote with the power of George Eliot and Elizabeth Barrett Browning; she may skillfully wield the pen and prove a very magician in journalism and in the nobler literatures [sic]; she may possess great persuasive power in the pulpit or on the platform; she may display diplomatic ability in the lobby or cabinet; she may fill the professor’s chair or preside over college or university; she may, like Joan of Arc, be the heroine of many a battlefield, or, like Victoria, reign with “all the royal makings of a queen” — but wherever her a woman is, or whatever a woman does, she is at her best, her divinest best, at home! There is the center of her power. Amiel says, “Woman is the salvation or destruction of the family. She carries its destiny in the folds of her mantle.” And Fannie Kimball was right when she wrote, “Maids must be wives and mothers, to fulfill the entire and holiest end of woman’s being.” Both Amiel and Fannie Kimball sustained Milton’s theory that “nothing lovelier can be found in a woman that to study household good.”
Woman, after all, is much like man and quite his equal. Between the two sexes there is a difference in function and in fineness of fiber, and, if not in degree, in the quality of strength. She may be more intense than man, although he excels her in a certain kind of force. Physically he may be heavier, taller, and firmer in texture, but there is this difference, that his strength you may measure, but she defies all your standards. Back of her apparent feebleness lies a certain omnipotence — which she owes to her womanhood. And therefore to some of us it seems a pity to be able to locate, determine, and record her power as when its measure is settled by the ballot she drops. Without such distinction, she is an unmeasured and unmeasurable [sic] factor, strong in religious, intellectual, and political life. In normal conditions man counts for more than woman — in field, shop, and senate — but less, far less in the parlor, at the fireside, and in the nursery. Home moves on with silent power while wife and mother remains; but how dumb and empty and impotent when she leaves it!
It is at home that woman herself gains the power that tells most effectually in the outside spheres of activity. It was very largely the mover-love at home that inspired Frances Willard, and filled her delicate frame with more than magnetic power when she appeared in the public arena. It is at home that woman is prepared to create the literature that charms the world. At home she finds stimulus that makes her an artist. There her love is ostered [sic] and all noblest womanly instincts and impulses kindled and satisfied. Toward home she turns with longing for the rest she must have to prepare for her service in the less sympathetic atmosphere of the world outside. It is at home she learns the lessons in human nature and in human need that best fit her to be Educator, Merchant, Physician, Reformer. It is here she carries on most effectively the experiments which give her uttered word and authority and power. Here she develops social power and gains the charms which make her mistress of the parlor in the best society, where “she moves a goddess and looks like a queen.” George Eliot asks, “What furniture can give such finish to a room as tender woman’s face? and is there any harmony of tints that has such stirrings of delight as the sweet modulations of her voice?”
Therefore, home is not and cannot be, as some women account it, a limited sphere, narrowing to the soul that fills it and belittling the intellectual powers that are concentrated upon it; for there is no realm so vast, so varied, furnishing so broad a field for research, exploration, and experimentation, as the home. See how diverse are its departments, the right direction of which demands learning, skill, faith, love, and indomitable persistency [sic]!
First, the true home must minister to the physical life. It must build up the body from the very beginning. This requires a scientific knowledge of the phenomena and laws of physical nature, a knowledge of chemistry as applied to the selection of food and its proper preparation, and discriminating knowledge of individual constitution and temperament, and of the effects of diet and exercise. It requires a knowledge of ventilation, of sanitation, and a score of things that are necessary to the building up of the sound body in which the sound mind is to abide and do its mark in this world.
Second, the true home is a school of business — a commercial college where the laws of finance must be studied, questions of income and expenditure mastered, attention given to the keeping of accounts, the state of the market, and habits of economy acquired. The various apparatus as appliances which modern invention provides for the careful conduct of domestic affairs, the facilitating of labor, the ease of bearing burdens — these things are necessary to the true ordering of the household.
The true home is, Third, the most important center of educational activity. It is only at home that we can begin at the beginning in processes of culture and continue our work through the most important years of the developing life. It is at home that we have supreme and final authority over the child, earliest and constant opportunity for the enforcement and illustration for what we attempt to teach, and for endless practical experiments in character building. Home adjusts and regulates environment and gives first, most favorable and continuous opportunity for the study of abnormal and representative types of personal qualities, and the beneficent devices for modifying or overcoming them. Now it is with the mother that the chief responsibility rests in the determining of the atmosphere and teaching power of this great center of life. To woman, more than to man (although man is not to account his responsibility in this matter as slight), are we to look for the careful guarding of prenatal influence, on which so much more depends than is usually supposed in the physical, mental, and moral conditioning of the child.
Fourth, home is the social center. Here society is really created, its influence for good or ill determined, recreation that really recreates secured, the art of conversation that educates while it delights acquired, the noblest and most refining companionship created, and the influence of art in decoration, in painting, in music, in literature, guaranteed. Perhaps there is no greater lack in America today than true and elevating parlor life. For all such lack woman is responsible and to woman only can we look for the initiation and carrying on of such social reform.
Fifth, home is the heart of Church life. The Church in the home is the foundation of all religious instruction. In the Holy Scriptures we find elements which make the ideal home life and which is the mission of the Church to foster, that the Church may imitate the home. Paul tells us that the true home is the illustration of the deepest and richest life of the Church, where husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, where wives obey their husbands as believers do their God, where children are brought up to obey their parents in all things, where parents are warned against anger and bitterness in home administration. Woman is chiefly responsible for the religious power of the domestic circle. Even where father neglects it, mother can maintain family prayer. Her example may promote among children a loving and law-abiding life. She may blend ethical and religious topics and so administer the affairs of the home in that it shall illustrate on a small scale the government of the universe — a government of love, obedience, and peace. Her life may embody the spirit of all divine law. Her children will believe what she teaches and her character, enriched, matured, and beautified by the holy Christian faith, will be an unanswerable demonstration of its divinity. Her children will grow up to believe with implicit confidence in the life of which she is a constant exponent.
Mother’s daily movements, as she walks, and sits and sings and serves, turn common life into a drama of grace, beauty and power — the best “stuff of life itself.” And when mother’s heart, full of mother’s love, obeys the inspiration of good taste, the living room of the lowliest house becomes a stage on which illustrated, under the spell of Holy Faith and morality, all that is best in human life. Thus home, under a wise woman’s guidance, is business college, mechanic’s institute, physical gymnasium, art conservatory, school of ethics, hall of literature, political club, and sanctuary of worship. Who dares to undervalue it?
It is in the home that mother raises good citizens, making votes not for one campaign but for lifelong service, through the character she illustrates and the characters she thereby builds.
And let it be remembered that it is not merely in elegant homes, in ample rooms, and among treasures of art, but in the humblest cottages of the land, these achievements in taste and character are possible.
Woman must never forget that her highest mission is Spiritual, that she is responsible for the higher life of the household, that the influence of mother is not only accentuated by a positive religious character and an avowal of positive faith, but that most everything is forfeited by religious doubt and apathy. The most pitiful woman in the world, if such a woman ever existed, is an atheistic mother — a woman without God in this world. Our greatest domestic perils today arise from certain laxities [sic] of opinion concerning religious devotion, certain prejudices against domestic life, certain reachings [sic] out of woman after her political promotion, and the coveting of what are known as the outside business and political affairs of the world.
Finally, be it said with emphasis that the entire responsibility for home must not rest upon woman. Man’s cooperation is indispensable. “If they continue,” says Paul, “in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety” — if they continue.” As man ministers to woman’s power within, she prepares for noble and successful work without. and when they two unite within, in Holy Faith and fixed resolve to make their household a Garden of the Lord, then may they two unite Without in extending noble influence and activity in social, in commercial, in reformatory, in political and religious life, to make the community and the nation on a larger scale the Garden of the Lord and His Kingdom where, as in His home, among His children, God Himself abides!
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.