Monday, December 24, 2012

A Very Conservative Feminism circa 1890


A sort of Pre-Raphaelite drawing in the book in Woman: her character, her culture, her calling 1890. (I'm not sure if the original was in colour.)

This is a  Canadian book (With Ontario and American authors, the Ontarians obscure the Americans prominent like Anna Howard Shaw) preserved by CIHM or Canadiana.org. It's a compilation of essays on the issues of the day regarding women. The New Woman and, from what I see, many (most) of the ideas in this book because mainstream by 1900, 1910.

Of course they were Protestant ideas and Canadian Protestants were Evangelical. They wanted to spread their ideas to everyone (the Purity Movement) and they did so due to their control of the Public education system - and their connections to men in Government and Industry.


I downloaded the book onto my Kindle, making the document easier to read and realized, for the first time, how well written it is.

I'm not sure if this book was influential, say, like Light in Dark Corners, the Hygiene Book from 1912 that cited 'self-control' as the ultimate virtue. But if a book is to be influential, it sure helps if it is well-written.

I just listened to a BBC Four lecture on the Lives of the Artists, an influential art history book from the Renaissance, well, a book that created the discipline of Art History and when the host asked Why is the book so Influential, the expert replied, "Well, first, it is very well written."

I have written about the wide-spread belief in 1910 that WOMEN HAD MADE IT, that any woman could go into any profession. Such nonsense! And yet almost everyone believed it.

The new 'improved'  1911 Encyclopedia Britannica claimed as much in the entry under WOMAN.

Carrie Derick of the Montreal Council of Woman, who herself had to fight hard to become the first female first professor in Canada (at McGill) also said as much in her 1912 report on Women and Work  to the Royal Commission on Industrial Education and Technical Education.

I wonder if the opening essay in this book,  titled OPEN DOORS By Principal Austin, A.M., B.D., of Alma College, St. Thomas, Ontario influenced Derick. It breezily cites all kinds of rosy statistics to show that all professions were now open to women. "Out of 338 professions in the US, 262 have been successfully opened to women," says Austin.

The introduction to the book (with a similar rosy outlook) is by the American President of the World's Women's Temperance Union proving, once again, that the people who pushed most for woman suffrage and for women's education (and for women to work in traditionally masculine fields while maintaining their delicate femininity somehow) were, ironically, religious conservatives.

  Education, and 'occupation', you see,  would keep women from falling into 'promiscuity'. In her opening, this woman  praises Christianity's progressive stance on women.


Read School Marms and Suffragettes my story about three young women in 1910  based on real letters to see first hand how ideas like this informed the lives of certain middle class Protestant women who came of age in the Edwardian Period.