Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/101

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

tell us of an African king, whose standing army is of women—a fierce and terrible array.

It is even possible that in this judgment an effect has been mistaken for a cause. Women have not been exempted from military service on account of their congenital delicacy, but their characteristic delicacy is the slow result of their exemption from this and other hardships submitted to by men.

Certain phenomena open to general observation warn us that it will not do to trust too implicitly the permanence of natural laws, and that physical structure and accompanying mental endowments may be greatly modified by continued unfavorable environments. Among certain orders—the bee, for example—sex itself may be determined by a continuous special regimen and diet, when the exigencies of the community require it. Among domestic animals the cow, especially honored for the service rendered to men by her maternal functions, has been exempted from the yoke of labor and maintained in an indolent isolation of respect nearly equal to that of the queen bee in the hive. The result has been such a differentiation in bulk and build as almost to declare a difference of species between herself and her congener of the other sex. Among horses, sheep, and swine, a substantial uniformity of regimen and discipline brings the two sexes into physical conditions with no appreciable differences in size, form, and strength. So, too, with the carnivora: a community of employment, of exposure, of activity in predaceous warfare, tends to bring size, shape, and color into a uniformity of type, while among other wild orders, like the stag, the greater bulk, the exaggeration, of the parts serviceable in combats is clearly due to continuous fighting assigned to the males alone.

To what, then, must the anthropologist attribute that custom, almost immemorial and universal, which savage and civilized men have concurred in establishing, of exempting women from the service of fighting? To that which will be found to be the spring and source of most of their customs and institutions—sentiment; a sentiment in man of mingled pity, respect, and affection—a sentiment, like most others of somewhat low origin, beginning, it may be, in selfishness and the promptings of instinct, but flowering out in its complete evolution into a noble and divine virtue.

Facts of our own national history illustrate, if they do not confirm, this judgment. Our civil war called out, as I have already said, two thirds of the whole arms-bearing population of one State, and probably the same proportion for all the North. It called out three thirds of the arms-bearing people of the South. The war ended simply because one section had, and the other had not, a reserve of one third to fall back upon. Probably no two