It is no disparagement of the women of the North to say that their Southern sisters endured more during the civil strife, and bore it as bravely as did the Northern women, and when the war was over they had vastly greater difficulties to face. It was bereavement, plus poverty. Loved ones gone; fortunes were gone; homes were in ruin.
We wonder that these women were not utterly crushed under the hard conditions. They were not accustomed to industrial pursuits, they knew nothing of self-support. They had been accustomed to give thought to things beautiful rather than things useful. Now, it was not a question of aesthetics, but of existence; it was a battle for bread.
For a time they were stunned, dazed, helpless. Gradually the vision cleared, the nerves steadied, and the women of the South rose in a self-reliance which surprised even themselves.
In many instances it was not merely self-support, but support of others. The getting of an education was for a time out of the question for the girls of the home, but mother and daughters toiled that the boys might have educational advantages. Seldom was the world seen more heroic struggles and self-denial than among the women of the South in the days of the reconstruction. It was a terrible ordeal; a fiery trial. We deplore the condition, but good has come out of it.
Before the war, the women of the North were in advance of their sisters in the South in the point of self-reliance and general development of all their powers. The women of New England and the West had been for many years winning their way educationally and industrially. They were less dependent upon husbands, fathers, and brothers. These developments extended over a considerable time period.
After the war, new conditions in the South obliged women to take a greatly advanced position, and in a remarkably short period of time they took the place alongside the women of the North in commercial, industrial, and professional life.
There was at first an industrial awakening in the Southland. Then followed an educational revival. Institutions of learning had lost their endowments in the general wreck, many buildings were in ruins, and instructors were dead or engaged in other lines of bread winning. With the awakening, funds were secured, buildings restored, and students came.
The woman of the New South lives in a larger world. She is occupied not alone with the beautiful, but with the useful, and she has made the useful beautiful. She is not less graceful than was her mother in the days before the war, but she is more vigorous. She has not less refinement, but more strength. Self-reliance has been learned in the hard school of experience. She has met new conditions, has proved herself equal to them.
The women of the New South has not come up to the measure of attainment in professional and industrial lines, but her development has covered a shorter period of time, conditions have been harder than in the North; and so her measure of attainment may be counted one of the most remarkable features of the century.
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.