Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Money-Earning Wife 1910

I found this article The Money-earning Wife in a book called Every Woman's Encyclopedia from the 1910/1912 period, the time of the Tighsolas letters.

The Nicholson women of  the series School Marms and Suffragettes that includes Threshold Girl, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster and Furies Cross the Mersey, were all money-earners, but only one of them, Flora, was a money-earning wife.

Marion worked as a teacher from 1906-1913 and then married, returning to her teaching job after her husband died and left her penniless with four children.

 Edith Nicholson never married so had to support herself and Flora married late in life and continued to work as a teacher while married.

Some young female relations of theirs  had no 'profession.' These women married so as not to be 'a burden on their parents'.  But their friends were all like them, workers and wage-earners at least until they married. Teachers mostly.

The  Nicholson women were not raised to be a burden on their parents; indeed, they helped their parents out financially as soon as they started working for money.

Here's the excerpt...

"She is a very useful person - this wife who can add a few pounds to the family income. In most cases she has known the glory of being wholly or largely independent before her marriage and after that event she likes to know her struggles against Fate and often bitter experience are not to be lost, and that she will still have the joy of receiving cheques in her own name for her own unaided efforts.

But, oddly enough, most husbands object to the money-earning wife.

Some of them are glad that no longer will their particular 'frail woman' have to fight the world for the world's gold. They know how hard and cruel is the task of him or her who has work to sell, and willingly they insist on undertaking all that side of the marriage partnership. They realize it is hardly fair that a woman shall be homemaker and home-keeper as well.

It is hardly fair that she should both bake the bread and earn the money for the flour. But the number of these charitable thinking husbands is few.

The greatest objection to the independent wife by a number of husbands is the fear their wives will continue to be independent so long as they have the power to buy their own hats and silk stockings. The heaviest claim a husband has over a wife is an economic one. If she is dependent on him because he earns the money, she is much more humble and amenable. The aged joke "that a man can bring his wife to a state of entire subjection by holding over her head the threat of no more silk dresses or new hats" is a very real weapon to some husbands.

And yet these husbands are not tyrants, probably very good husbands from many points of view, but because they are men they have an inborn notion that if they earn all the money they have the sole right of saying how it shall be spent."

Another horribly powerful reason why man wives do not attempt to earn money is jealous. Some wives, literary or artistic, can earn more money than their husbands and these same women also earn fame and the world's honour, while the husband is known only as "Mrs. Author's Wife."

"Mrs. A is a clever woman but Mr. A is a very ordinary man" is the dread sentence every husband begins to fear as soon as he realizes his wife's ability.  Quarrels, separation and even divorce have been the direct results of a wife's capability to earn as much money and win as much fame as her husband.

Of course this is all from a middle class point of view. Rich women brought considerable dowries into their marriages, which were often seen as alliances between families.

Middle class women too often brought dowries into their marriage. Without a dowry it was hard to find a husband, who needed this injection of money to kick start his career.

Poor women, well they often worked as domestics for the upper middle class and wealthy.

Or they did whatever had to be done. Piecework, farmwork.. and I recall reading about coal miners' wives, who often never slept (only taking cat-naps on a chair) for they had to be there as each of their men (husband and sons) returned from their various shifts down the wash and feed them.