Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/February 1875/The Relations of Women to the Professions and Skilled Labor

587552Popular Science Monthly Volume 6 February 1875 — The Relations of Women to the Professions and Skilled Labor1875Ely Van de Warker



THERE are fields of labor in which women have been immemorially active. In all matters relating to the cares of the house and children among the civilized, and, among the barbarous and the lowest strata of life in Europe and elsewhere, field-labor, the care of animals, and the lighter manufactures, are the tasks imposed upon women. Deduct from this the comparatively small number of women of fashion whose existence is merged into the decorative part of social life, and we have here roughly grouped the lines which have defined the usefulness of women, and which have lain parallel for ages. In the midst of this toiling mass of humanity phenomenal women have appeared—women who have thrown down the dividing lines of prejudice, and created for themselves places among the most celebrated of the other sex. Those who have thus elevated themselves above the mass have demonstrated the capacity of women not only for the highest culture, but also their ability to equal men in the use of faculties which are their most distinguished attributes.

For a generation or more the question of woman's entry into employments deemed man's exclusive province has attracted attention, and raised up for woman a body of aggressive advocates of both sexes, who, by their demands, have provoked some harsh criticism from those who are in no sense the enemies of the intellectual and worldly advancement of women. Woman is now submitting her fitness to find employment, in the learned professions and skilled labor, to the rigid test of actual trial. Will she succeed, or will those of her sex, who achieve success in these fields of labor, be the exception, rather than the rule, in the future as in the past? In order to answer this question, it is my purpose to study woman in this relation, as a gynæcologist,[1] leaving out of consideration the social aspects of the case. One, who has devoted years to the study of women and their diseases, has a right to be heard upon this vital question. I do so the more readily because I know of no gynæcologist who has devoted his special learning to the study of woman's relation to man's work as a means of subsistence and of usefulness. For our purpose, therefore, woman must be scientifically investigated as a means to the accomplishment of certain ends. She must be studied rather in her physical and mental fitness, than in relation to society in her new position. This latter part of the subject belongs to the sociologist.

An examination of the present relation of woman to the other sex will throw light upon the complex problem of her success, in the future, in these fields of usefulness. The women of savage races, except sexually, present but slight differences in physical development and mental character from the males. That they are in base servitude to the other sex is in obedience to the aggressive and belligerent character of all males of the higher order of animals. This has the force of a law. The moral subjection of woman to the other sex is fundamentally a sexual peculiarity. With the slow advent of civilization the differences between the sexes increased. With no lessening of subjugation the capacity of woman for gross labor decreased, and from man's equal, physically, she became only his equal mentally. The chivalry of the middle ages of Europe kept viable the principle of her social equality, which she had wrung from man during the period of classic civilization. Of all things, mediæval woman alone did not retrograde. I believe the modern woman to he the natural outgrowth of the woman of chivalry.

And here let me apply to this question the laws of heredity and sexual selection. These laws touch the human family with as much force as the lower forms of animal life. The fact that man is marked by intellectual power in no way exempts him from the operation of the fundamental laws of biology. Objections which, at the first glance, may appear to be well taken against applying these laws to explain the existing relation of women to the other sex, become of small moment when we consider that, in his sexual relations, man approximates to nearly the level of the lower animals. M. Quetelet, who has made this a special study, remarks as follows: "It is curious to see man, proudly entitling himself King of Nature, and fancying himself controlling all things by his free-will, yet submitting, unknown to himself, more rigorously than any other being in creation, to the laws he is under subjection to."[2] Mr. Buckle, in the introduction to his "History of Civilization," carries the argument of Quetelet to even a greater extent. I think this will satisfy any possible objection to the propriety of applying these laws to the exposition of my subject.

Whatever may be woman's fitness in the future to become man's peer in the professions and skilled labor, there is this fact against her in the present: she is laboring under the accumulated inherited tendency of countless generations. That which had its origin in common with sister animals in physical and moral subjection to the male, has, in spite of the operation of that intellectual force which we see operating so potently at the present day to cast off this subjugation, continued in full force. I can explain this in no other way except as the result of heredity. This position of woman is as clearly a sexual trait as in lower animals. Darwin says that, "as peculiarities often appear in one sex, and become hereditarily attached to that sex, the same fact probably occurs under nature, and, if so, natural selection will be able to modify one sex in its functional relation to the other sex."[3] Dr. Maudsley, in speaking of one relation of woman to man, says:" Through generations her character has been formed with that chief aim (marriage); it has been made feeble by long habits of dependence; by the circumstances of her position, the sexual life has been undesignedly developed at the expense of the intellectual."[4] Mr. Herbert Spencer insists upon this. "Certain powers which mankind have gained in the course of civilization cannot, I think, be accounted for, without admitting the inheritance of acquired modifications."[5]

The law of sexual selection also comes in as a factor to account for the present relation of the sexes. Since our modern civilization there have ever been women who aimed to relieve their sex of their dependent relation to man. With this moral force ceaselessly antagonizing the natural relation of the sexes and the forces of heredity, why has it not, in a more marked degree, accomplished the noble purpose at which the more intellectual and stronger minds of the sex have aimed? To offer a reasonable explanation of this, I apply the law of sexual selection. Men and women do not appear to wed out of free choice, but in obedience to law which finds its expression in individual preferences. This, in the human family, may be called sexual selection. Mr. Walker states it in this way: "Love from a man toward a masculine woman would be felt by him as an unnatural association with one of his own sex; and an effeminate man is equally repugnant to woman. In the vital system, the dry seek, the humid; the meagre, the plump; the hard, the softer; the rough, the smoother; the warmer, the colder; the dark, the fairer, etc., upon the same principles; and so, also, if here any of the more usual sexual qualities are reversed, the opposite ones will be accepted or sought for."[6] Dr. Ryan, in speaking of selection in relation to marriage, uses nearly identical language.[7]

The annals of literature show that the most eminent of the sex either are unmarried, or are married late in life, and are thus often without issue. The women who intellectually leave their impress upon the age in which they live are the very class to which this law of sexual selection applies. The chances of this order of women leaving daughters who will inherit their superior mental vigor are greatly inferior to those of the average woman. The woman of the average, her mind and ambition being of the measure of the ordinary matters of life, not only seeks a husband by the force of education, but is sought by men. Thus, married early in life, she becomes the source from which the population is recruited. This, in my judgment, is not only a potent cause of the present relation of the sexes, but will serve to explain the chances of women becoming prominent in the professions of the future.

There is another set of laws which apply to this part of the subject. These are the phenomena which are observed in studying human increase, and are called the laws of population. The forces engaged in the evolution of nervous and mental (cerebral) structure are opposed to those necessary to reproduction. Mr. Herbert Spencer expresses it as an antagonism between Individuation and Genesis; and that this antagonism is more marked "where the nervous system is concerned, because of the costliness of nervous structure and function."[8] There is no part of individuation so costly as that of cerebral growth. The more solid expansion of mind is accomplished after general structural development has ceased. If mental growth be unduly forced before structural completion, structural and sexual genesis are retarded or impaired. Professional training in women must, therefore, fall within the child-bearing period. In the case of men of great mental activity there is marked impairment of fertility.[9] The cost of reproduction to males is greatly less than to females, and it therefore follows clearly that the prolonged and intensified mental growth, the result of professional training, is to be deducted in full from the sum of the forces necessary to reproduction. M. Quetelet cannot doubt the influence of professional life upon fertility.[10] Mr. Herbert Spencer says, "that absolute or relative infertility is generally produced in women by mental labor carried to excess, is more clearly shown.... This diminution of reproductive power is not shown only by the greater frequency of absolute sterility, nor is it shown only in the earlier cessation of childbearing, but it is also shown in the very frequent inability of such women to suckle their infants. In its full sense, the reproductive power means the power to bear a well-developed infant, and to supply that infant with the natural food for the natural period."[11]

Even were it not that absolute and relative infertility are against the woman undergoing severe mental discipline having children to inherit her improved cerebral evolution, and in favor of the average or inferior woman, still the very condition of this mental discipline, if the woman is preparing for the professions or skilled labor, involves a postponement of marriage to a period when, in the mass of wives, fecundity has received a permanent check. The average individual wife shows a degree of fecundity which, at the age of twenty-five, diminishes,[12] and this is the period at which the professional woman is prepared to enter upon her business career. The opinion of Mr. Sadler, that delayed marriages developed a degree of fertility in women which compensated for the loss of fecundity consequent upon the delay, is completely overthrown by the tables of Dr. Duncan.[13] If women are to enter the learned professions and skilled labors, they must be devoting themselves to training at a period of their lives when the mass of women are wives—mothers. I think that it must be conceded as a fact that, to contract matrimony during this period of mental and bodily training, would totally defeat the selected life-work of the woman. The desire to become the co-worker with man upon the highest level of man's work belongs only to superior women; if, in addition to this innate superiority, we add that acquired from increased cerebral development, the law of heredity would tend to continually enlarge the number of women fitted by inherited traits to occupy this advanced field. But we have shown that the laws of sexual selection and of population are entirely opposed to the increase of women thus favored, and in favor of the average woman by a large per centum.

I am inclined to regard all forces which have hitherto acted, and yet continue to act, upon the great mass of humanity in the creation of sentiments common to the majority upon a given subject, as acting with the force of a law. I conceive, therefore, that there is yet another law which explains, and tends to perpetuate, the present relation of women to the other sex and to society. This is the law of public opinion. The exponents of public opinion upon this subject are the women themselves. I do not think any one will controvert me when I assert that a vast majority of women are opposed to their own sex entering the professions. One would naturally suppose that, in the matter of religion, a woman's opinion is as good as a man's; that, with equal learning and experience, a woman is as competent to discharge pastoral duties as a man (I am assuming the physical equality of the sexes); and yet you may count upon the fingers of one hand the number of pulpits filled successfully by women in this great country. In this country women are free to enter the medical profession; but, with about as many exceptions as that of women filling pulpits, they are gaining but a precarious and scanty support. Now, in both the professions named, women are retarded by the force of opinion of their own sex. In all social questions, women wield a great influence. In these matters they are the throne, and the power behind the throne. In Protestant congregations, if women were a unit in favor of women preaching, women would preach in a fair proportion of church organizations. If a woman made a free choice of a physician of her own sex, there is scarce a household in which she would be denied her choice. Women seem to lack confidence in their own sex in this position. In the desperate diseases peculiar to women, the sorely afflicted ones seek the medical man instead of the medical woman. The future has yet to produce the anomaly of the female ovariotomist. In the literature of medicine there has been but one Boivin, and but one La Chapelle. The reliance upon man in moments of bodily peril is easily explained; it is an inherited trait, strengthened by education.

I have said enough to explain philosophically the present relation of women to the other sex, and to society. It is this relation which has, in the past, regulated woman's admission into the professions and skilled labor. But we have now to accept the fact that women have entered the professions to contend with man in the struggle for existence. In this struggle, I presume, women expect no favors. In this new field of contest all they ought to ask for is a fair chance to win—the same chances man must take. But, in view of her present relation, and the radical physical differences between the sexes, have they a fair chance, and can they take the chances of man and reach his level in the professions? This is the question I shall endeavor honestly to solve.

Mentally, I believe woman to be the peer of man; that there is nothing about law, medicine, or theology, that woman cannot learn as well as he; that her mental difference is a sexual difference, just as her bodily differences are sexual. To the question of her mental fitness for this work, other than sexual, I shall give no attention. The physical difference between the sexes will form the first part of our study of woman's future relation to the professions, and brings us naturally to the discussion of the law of anatomical development as modified by sex. In the July number of The Popular Science Monthly, in an article entitled the "Genesis of Woman," I endeavored to assign a proper value to the functional development of woman. In that paper, the anatomical development of woman was studied with reference to her functional genesis; but here it must be studied with reference to her fitness for competition with the opposite sex in the struggle for subsistence. Now, there are certain skilled labors which belong to man by virtue of his superior strength. The anatomical peculiarities of woman do not need to be contrasted with man's in reference to this class of labor, and women in the lower walks of life have demonstrated their ability for severe bodily toil. But the intellectual work—to which I am mainly directing my attention—to which women are reaching, implies that the candidates possess the delicate structural development, the inherited result of civilizing forces. We can draw no inference, therefore, from that fact that women, less exposed to these forces, and more nearly approximating man in physical strength, fully equal him in the value of their labor. If we examine some of the lighter and more delicate forms of skilled labor, such as we would naturally conclude were peculiarly fitted for the delicate and nice touch of women, we find them in the hands of men almost exclusively. The question of mental fitness must be excluded, for mentally they are as competent as man is to acquire and practise these arts. I think it can be shown that anatomical unfitness, aside from her inclination, is the obstacle. In the manufacture of instruments involving great delicacy, and, until the introduction of machinery, in the manufacture of watches, as a class women were excluded. While not involving any great muscular outlay, these samples of skilled labor demand great delicacy of educated touch. While we must make great allowances, as an anatomical factor, for the advantage to men so employed of the inheritance of mechanical taste and skill from fathers, oftentimes so employed for generations, yet it is a common error to suppose that employments which involve delicacy of manipulation do not require strength, as great in degree as, but differing in kind from, that demanded by more hardy labor. Educated, coördinate muscular movements depend more than any other upon strength and certainty of muscular contraction. In no particular, aside from sexual differences, is the male skeleton so greatly different from the female as in the irregularities and asperities of the bones for the attachment of the muscles. While in man they form a marked feature of his bony structure, in well-formed females they present but a comparatively scanty development. It is true that both muscles and osseous irregularities, for their origin and insertion, may be developed by training, yet woman, as at present related to the other sex, has not only to acquire his strength, by a course of extra training, but she must equal him in skill, if she is to prove a successful competitor for his place. These comparisons between the physical strength of the sexes would be altogether unfair, were it not for the fact that they are invited by the position women have elected for themselves, and are essential in giving an opinion of woman's chances of success.

The fact that those employments are chosen by women which permit a sitting position is significant in this relation. Woman is badly constructed for the purpose of standing eight or ten hours upon her feet. I do not intend to bring into evidence the peculiar position and nature of the organs contained within the pelvis, but to call attention to the peculiar structure of the knee, and the shallowness of the pelvis, and the delicate nature of the foot as part of a sustaining column. The knee-joint of woman is a sexual characteristic. Viewed in front and extended, the joint in but a slight degree interrupts the gradual taper of the thigh into the leg. Viewed in a semi-flexed position, the joint forms a smooth, ovate spheroid. The reason of this lies in the smallness of the patella in front, and the narrowness of the articular surfaces of the tibia and femur, and which in man form the lateral prominences, and thus is much more perfect as part of a sustaining column than that of woman. The muscles which keep the body fixed upon the thighs in the erect position labor under the disadvantage of shortness of purchase, owing to the short distance—compared to that of man—between the crest of the ilium and the great trochanter of the femur, thus giving to man a much longer purchase in the leverage existing between the trunk and extremities. Comparatively, the foot is less able to sustain weight than that of man, owing to its shortness and the more delicate structure of the tarsus and metatarsus. I do not think there can be any doubt that women have instinctively avoided some of the skilled labors on anatomical peculiarities.

The question is in order, To what extent will these anatomical disadvantages act as a bar to her future progress? The present skill of man is the sum of functional and organic evolutions attendant upon countless generations. Women, during this period, have also been passing through the same series of evolutions. But the sum attained by women, although equaling that reached by men in sexual value, differs totally in kind. Under the condition of the sexes we are studying, these lines of evolution must maintain a perfect parallelism in order to secure equality in the sexes. Physically and intellectually, the two sexes must move side by side to future evolution. At present, woman must unlearn part of her innate education, and acquire some of that of man; otherwise she cannot equal him in value of skilled labor. Woman must be content to grow up, to evolve, generation by generation, to a position from which she can compete with man in the fields of labor. I believe this condition of things not only can be realized, but in the course of generations will be reached. When we reflect that the present impaired value, in a labor point of view, of educated women is but the result of civilizing forces and the increment of inherited traits, and that women in lower or savage life fairly equal men in the value of their muscular development, we have every reason for this belief. The reader must bear in mind that I am treating of the sex as a unit. Individual exceptions, which always have occurred, and, however prolonged the existing relation of the sexes may be, probably will ever occur, do not apply as negative facts to my argument. The laws of sexual selection, of population, and of heredity, will oppose the advance of women, other than in this exceptional way. But there exists in society a force which is tending to the parallel evolution of the sexes. This force lies in the large excess of females in the adult population of many countries. Stern necessity will force—if this condition of affairs continues in the future—a large percentage of this excess to compete with man in the professions and skilled labor. Many of these trained women will marry and have children, and thus form nuclei, divergent lines from which will extend into posterity, ever adding increment upon increment to the forces which tend to parallelism in the evolution of the sexes.

The purely sexual anatomical differences I shall say nothing about; but the functional resultants of these anatomical conditions, both mentally and physically, must be studied with reference to their effect upon woman's chances of success. If we examine carefully the mental action of women, we perceive in it an undercurrent of sex. As there are organs which characterize sex, so also is there a sexual cerebration. We know from experience that this unconscious dominance of sex in cerebration in no way interferes with high culture, and the exercise of the best qualities of mind. It is a normal condition of mental action in women, but its existence implies conditions which may at any moment render mental action abnormal. Take the emotions, for instance, the undue exercise of which are so liable to assume morbid proportions, as in hysteria. Here sex, when it asserts itself unduly, obtrudes inharmoniously into what otherwise would be healthy mental action. It is in this class of mental actions, termed the emotions, that the mind of woman forms part of the sexual cycle. Some of these actions are so elementary that they are called instincts. The maternal affection, and also love, partakes of this instinctive character. The exercise of the sympathies is more general and active in women than in men. This is one of the features which give such beauty to the character of women, and is not the result of education. Mungo Park tells us that, when sick and thirsting, and maltreated by the natives of Africa, the women of the savage tribe visited him and supplied his wants. I will give one instance, which is a type of character, and shows how sympathy and natural feeling may interfere with professional advancement.

The wife of a practising physician, being of a scientific tendency of mind, acquired a theoretical knowledge of her husband's profession. The husband died, and left the widow poor and with several children, some of them so young as to demand much of her time and thought. She continued the study of medicine with the design of making it the means of support for herself and children. To this end she attended lectures at a woman's medical college. Before she obtained her diploma, an old, superannuated Presbyterian clergyman excited her sympathy by his forlornness. She gave him a home in a very womanly way—she made him her husband. Here was a double burden—an old man, and little children. This physician, although laden with her great, womanly heart, was prosperous in a small way. She secured the position of house-physician in the hospital connected with the college, with a small salary, and with sufficient time to attend to private patients. Her pecuniary prospects were better than those of young physicians of the other sex. The husband soon died. At this point in the history occurred an incident which seems to me to be phenomenal, and yet is typical. A second old clergyman, equally forlorn and wretched as the first, accepted the charity of this woman by becoming her husband. Her practice slowly increased; her children were well clad and well educated. A daughter married, and moved, with her husband, to a distant city. A son studied medicine, and the last husband died. The next act in this singular history reveals an intensity of maternal feeling entirely opposed to a business success in a difficult profession. Gifted with a fine mind, as thoroughly educated in her profession as the majority of medical men, with good health, and having reached that time of life when she was functionally at rest, and with every encouragement to remain at her post, yet she made a better mother than doctor. She resigned her position in the hospital; abandoned her private practice; and moved to the city in which her daughter resided, in order to be near her child and grandchildren—and there, in a strange community, recommenced the difficult occupation of a female physician. This history is truly a physiological study, and reveals the intensity of feeling which may exist in all women upon subjects which lie near the heart.

The common standard of professional success is a pecuniary one. Public opinion will apply this standard to women as rigidly as it does to men. It is a common experience to meet men of the highest mental training in their professions, yet who fail completely in a business sense, owing to idiosyncrasies of mind. In this way the sympathies and affections to which women are prone will retard them in their pursuit of a profession as a business investment. In the medical profession, to which women have a special leaning, the constant witnessing of human suffering and misery will call into play emotions which will interfere with the calm and deliberate study of each case, which its rational treatment will demand. The same objection applies to men; the medical man is rarely to be trusted to treat a difficult case in his wife, or child, or himself.

There is one fact in woman's functional life which is of vast importance to the subject of this paper, and which I refer to with great reluctance. This fact is ovulation. The mental reaction of this function is oftentimes of such a character as, for the time, to totally incapacitate for professional or other mental work. As this paper is written solely with the view of arriving at the truth in a matter of great practical importance, I must let this serve as my apology for referring plainly to this subject; and this importance requires that I let others, who are acknowledged authorities in gynæcology, speak for me.

Dr. Robert Barnes, of London, the author of the latest work upon gynæcology, uses the following unequivocal language: "The mind is always more or less disturbed. Perception, or at least the faculty of rightly interpreting perceptions, is disordered. Excitement to the point of passing delirium is not uncommon. Irritability of temper, disposition to distort the most ordinary and best-meaning acts or words of surrounding persons, afflict the patient, who is conscious of her unreason, and perplex her friends, until they have learned to understand these recurring outbursts.... Not even the best-educated women are all free from these mental disorders. Indeed, the more preponderant the nervous element, the greater is the liability to the invasion. Women of coarser mould, who labor with their hands, especially in out-door occupations, are far less subject to these nervous complications. If they are less frequently observed, if they less frequently drive refined women to acts of flagrant extravagance, it is because education lends strength to the innate sense of decorum, and enables them to control their dangerous thoughts, or to conceal them until they have passed away."[14] Another of the accidents attendant upon ovulation is hysteria. Dr. Tilt defines it as a disease peculiar to women during the reproductive period of life, and is often known to return at each period of ovulation.[15] This function is constantly liable to accidents. Speaking of the mental effects of æmenorrhœa, a disease to which every woman is liable who follows an intellectually rather than a physically active life, Sir J. Y. Simpson says that she becomes "subject to fits of excitement which come on most frequently at a menstrual period, and which usually assume an hysterical form, but are, at times, almost maniacal in character."[16] I shall make but one other quotation, and I am glad to say that it bears directly and practically upon this matter. Dr. H. R. Storer, of Boston, is reported to have spoken as follows in a debate at the Gynæcological Society of Boston, May, 1870: "In the present excited state of public opinion, it were foolish, and at the same time unkind, to object to female physicians upon any untenable grounds; and he frankly stated that the arguments that physicians had usually employed, when discussing this subject, were, almost without exception, untenable. Some of the women who were desirous of practising physic and surgery were just as well educated for the work, had just as much inclination for it, and were as unflinching in the presence of suffering, or at the sight of blood, as were many male practitioners. They had a right to demand an acknowledgment that, in these respects, they were as competent to practise as are a large proportion of ourselves. There is, however, one point, and it is upon this that the whole question must turn, that has till now almost wholly been lost sight of: and this is the fact that, like the rest of their sex, lady doctors, until they are practically old women, regularly menstruate, and are therefore subject to those alternations of mental condition, observable in every woman under these circumstances, which so universally affect, temporarily, their faculties of reason and judgment. That these faculties are thus affected at the times referred to is universally acknowledged."[17]

Many other authors may be cited to the same effect; but these are sufficient to render evident the possibilities of danger, if not of disaster, to women subject to the ceaseless calls of professional life.

Among popular writers upon this subject, the matter of wifehood or motherhood has been treated as if, were woman willing to sacrifice some of her traditional feeling, and voluntary likings for the other sex, she might cast off the fetters of these honorable conditions, and move on untrammeled to the study and practice of a profession. We have been studying woman, in her relation to the subject of this paper, as a sexual being; and, if we continue the study in the same direction, we must arrive at the conclusion that marriage is not an optional matter with her. On the contrary, it is a prime necessity to her normal, physical, and intellectual life. There is an undercurrent of impulse impelling every healthy woman to marry. That this is a law of her sexual being we know by the positive evidence of medical men and others. We also know that the married woman exerts a more marked influence upon men, and society in general, than the celibate. There is also, among married women, a more perfect equilibrium between the intellectual, physical, and sexual forces; and yet, necessary as marriage is for woman, in the present relation of the sexes, it must in every way impair her prospects of success in professional work.

The effect of celibacy upon women has often elicited the remarks of gynæcologists. Dr. Tilt says of marriage: "It is easier to prove the benefits of marriage than to measure accurately the evils of celibacy, which I believe to be a fruitful source of uterine disease. The sexual instinct is a healthy impulse, claiming satisfaction as a natural right."[18] Again: "An enlarged field of observation convinces me that the profession has not in any wise exaggerated the influence of marriage on women, and that its dangers are infinitesimal as compared with those of celibacy."[19] Nearly every treatise upon gynæcology may be quoted to establish the same fact. It is upon the mind of woman that the defeated sexuality acts reflexly in a morbid manner. Dr. Maudsley, who has had abundant opportunities for observation, says: "The sexual passion is one of the strongest in Nature, and as soon as it comes into activity it declares its influence on every pulse of organic life, revolutionizing the entire nature, conscious and unconscious; when, therefore, the means of its gratification entirely fail, and when there is no vicarious outlet for its energy, the whole system feels the effects, and exhibits them in restlessness and irritability, in a morbid self-feeling taking a variety of forms."[20] While it is true that the engrossing cares of professional life, or of a skilled labor, will serve as a partial "vicarious outlet for its energy," in contrast to an idle life, yet this will in no manner act as a substitute for the natural expression of this physiological want. Its constant suppression will tinge the thought and manner of the woman. This is not an unreasonable statement, when we reflect that bodily derangements, not at all serious, will often account for changes in the mind and manner, as well as for the entire mental habit of men otherwise strong. If we contrast her with man in this respect, the chances are infinitely against woman in professional life. The penalty of sex is an episode in man's life. The tribute to his sexuality once paid, he is practically unsexed, and the trained intellectual man moves among women and men with scarcely more than a consciousness of his reproductive faculty. But sex in woman is a living presence. From the age of fifteen to that of forty-five, her life is crowded with startling physiological acts. Ovulation, impregnation, conception, gestation, parturition, lactation, and the menopause, contend with each other for supremacy—each act a mystery; each attended with its peculiar peril; and most of them evoking in its behalf the highest efforts of which her physical organization is capable. It will demand genius indeed to enable woman to rival man in the field of labor, and, at the same time, contend with the inexorable law of reproduction.

Having shown that women are not free agents in the matter of marriage, but do so in obedience to a primal law of their sexual life, we will next consider what are the chances for the married women in professional life. In a physiological study such as this, we will not concern ourselves with the social obstacles a married woman must encounter. We have a right to consider every woman who has a husband as either a mother, or liable to become one. Any attempt on the part of a wife to avoid children in order to free herself of that obstacle to professional life would be attended with consequences to her mental and physical health which would seriously impair her usefulness.[21] The end and aim of woman's sexual life is perfected by maternity. It broadens and elevates her intellectually and physically. The influence over society reached by wives-mothers is a natural outcome of the stimulus of maternity. The maternal instinct, which lies dormant in the nature of every woman, awakens her mental being into increased activity the moment it is called into life. I think that it is for this reason that frail women, with no knowledge of life, when widowed, often succeed in keeping their families together and providing for them. With the woman who is constantly liable to the demands of a profession, or skilled labor, the maternal affection, anxiety, or care, may intrude at moments when her occupation will demand her highest mental efforts. The manual labor of rearing children the professional woman may delegate to others, but the ceaseless love, care, and forethought, so beautiful in a mother's love, the true woman must assume herself. Physically, children are necessary to the married woman. The sterile wife is constantly exposed to diseases that the fecund wife is comparatively exempt from. The sterile wife is not a normal woman, and sooner or later this physical abnormality finds expression in intellectual peculiarities. Not upon the mind alone, but upon the body as well, does motherhood have a maturing influence. Gestation is nearly the completion of the sexual function. The process involves increase in the size of the heart, and in the volume and strength of nearly all the muscles of the body.[22] It is evident from this that gestation is not only a functional completion, but it is necessary to structural maturity, and to me it seems a natural corollary that it has an equal effect in increasing mental vigor. Having shown that marriage is in obedience to a physiological law, and that maternity is necessary to insure mental and bodily health in the mass of women, it is proper for us to ascertain if the last of these conditions—gestation—is not of itself, physically and mentally, an obstacle to professional life in women. The physical incapacity is too evident to need any comment.

Mentally, the changes undergone are most singular and multiform, and operate upon the cultivated and ignorant alike. Dr. Montgomery, speaking of the nervous irritability of pregnancy, says: "It displays itself under a great variety of forms and circumstances, rendering the female much more excitable and more easily affected by external agencies; especially those which suddenly produce strong mental or moral emotions. Hence the importance of preventing, as far as possible, pregnant women from being exposed to causes likely to distress, or otherwise strongly impress their minds."[23] These objective mental conditions described by the author must not be regarded as exceptional; on the contrary, they are classed among the usual symptoms of that condition. Still more marked mental disturbances may occur and are not rare, as in the following quotation from Dr. Storer: "Strange appetites, or longings, as they are called, and antipathies, are well known as frequent attendants on pregnancy in many persons."[24] And further: "The evidence that I have now presented proves that the state of pregnancy is one subject to grave mental and physical derangements, giving rise to serious anxieties, and requiring judicious treatment."[25] These mental effects are of minor importance in the relation we are studying, when we consider the fact that absolute insanity may be an accompaniment of either gestation, or follow parturition. Dr. Maudsley refers to this as explaining the excess of female insane over that of the other sex.[26]

Dr. Forbes Winslow draws a startling picture of this catastrophe: "When, after numerous struggles to repress them, the propensities excited into such fearful and almost supernatural activity by ovarian irritation burst forth beyond all control, and the pet of the family is seen to be the opposite, morally, in every respect to what she had been—irreligious, selfish, slanderous, false, malicious, devoid of affection, thievish in a thousand petty ways, bold, maybe erotic, self-willed and quarrelsome; and if the case be not rightly understood, great and often irreparable mischief is done to correct what seems to be vice, but is really insanity."[27]

We have but one other sexual accident to consider which may act as a bar to woman's progress in the professions. These accidents are incident to the climacteric period of life. This period includes the years between forty and fifty, and, judging from men, a professional woman ought then to be most actively engaged in her occupation. It is during the functional changes then taking place that women are exposed again to the dangers which attend the advent of puberty. It is the second and last crisis in the functional life of woman. We will let the mere bodily diseases of this period pass unnoticed, and refer to those of cerebral origin, as mind forms the working organ of the professional woman. Dr. Bedford regards the varieties of nervous irritation peculiar to this period as "beyond calculation."[28] In fact, it is upon the nervous system principally that the cessation of ovarian function acts reflexly in an abnormal manner. Thus, 500 women divided among them 1,261 forms of cerebral disease, confirming the general belief in the frequency of cerebral diseases at the change of life.[29] The liability to insanity at this period is greater in women than in men. Leaving out of consideration such an extreme result as insanity, yet the lighter shades of nervous derangement which would entirely unfit a woman for healthy mental work are so multiform, and to which men are in no way exposed, that it is evident that at this period woman would encounter some of the most stubborn barriers to her success in professional life. The professions, in giving undue employment to the mind, would greatly predispose a woman so employed to nervous disease at the change of life. Her very employment, to which many are working their way so bravely, is almost sure to entail suffering and danger at a period when educated and refined women, more than any others, require mental and bodily repose, and which the nature of their employment forbids. With this brief notice of this important crisis in the life of woman I shall close this part of the subject, and simply offer, in conclusion, a summary in the form of a


The moral subjection of woman to man is a sexual peculiarity.

This has been perpetuated and intensified in the human family by the law of heredity.

That the tendency of civilization and education to antagonize this subjection of the sex is neutralized by the law of sexual selection.

That the changes of intellectually active women leaving issue to inherit their improved mental character are greatly in favor of the average woman in obedience to the law of population.

That women are retarded in their advancement to professional work by public opinion.

That women have unconsciously avoided some of the skilled labors by reason of anatomical unfitness, and which will be operative in the future.

That sexual cerebration is liable to assume undue prominence in the cultivated and ignorant alike, and thus unfit her for professional mental work.

That women marry in obedience to a sexual law, and not from choice; and that marriage, in the present relation of the sexes, is an obstacle to professional success.

That if women remain single, in order to enhance their professional success, celibacy entails many physical and mental evils, which will impair their value in professional life.

That ovulation may, in many cases, be the cause of mental excitement, or require strong efforts of repression, which would unfit her, for the time, for professional work.

That children are necessary to the mental and physical health of married women, but that maternity is unfavorable to success in skilled labor or the professions.

That the functions of gestation and parturition are very liable to be attended with mental disturbances which would totally defeat a professional career.

That the change of life is a critical period, prone to be attended with mental and bodily infirmities, unfitting a woman for professional work.

With such possibilities before her, and such necessities urging her, what chance has woman of successfully competing with men of mediocrity in professional life, or in skilled labor? It must be the intent of every woman who essays a professional life to do man's work as well as man can do it, and to secure man's reward for such well-doing. But, I cannot avoid the conclusion that, in the present relation of the sexes, such a standard is impossible of attainment. Whether the conditions which have created and continued the present relation of the sexes will operate as potently in the future as in the past, is a difficult question to answer. I have already said that, in my opinion, there now exist in society forces which will tend to modify the dependence of women. Prominent among these is the persistence with which women are working their way to new relations, which, if continued, will certainly bear fruit, and evoke in its behalf the law of heredity, which is now opposed to them. If we look upon society in a scientific spirit, we must recognize it as a field in which antagonizing forces are contending. This effort of woman to invade all the higher forms of labor is a force battling with the established order of sexual relation. The inertia which it encounters is the universal attendant of established facts in society. If this effort of woman is continued into coming generations, I have no doubt but her relations to society and labor will be in many respects modified. But I believe a long series of generations must pass before women can equal the labor value of men in the professions.

  1. Gynæcology, that branch of pathology which treats of the diseases of women.
  2. Popular Science Monthly, vol. ii., p. 46.
  3. "The Origin of Species," p. 83.
  4. "The Physiology and Pathology of the Mind," p. 203.
  5. "Principles of Biology," vol. ii., p. 249.
  6. "Intermarriage," by Alexander Walker, 1839, p. 116.
  7. "The Philosophy of Marriage," 1873, p. 70.
  8. "Principles of Biology," ii., p. 502.
  9. "Principles of Biology," ii., p. 487.
  10. A Treatise on "Man and the Development of his Faculties." Translation. Edinburgh, 1842, p. 21.
  11. Loc. cit, p. 486.
  12. Dr. Matthews Duncan, "Fecundity, Fertility, Sterility, and Allied Topics," Edinburgh, p. 43.
  13. Sadler, "The Law of Population," ii., p. 279.
  14. "A Clinical History of the Medical and Surgical Diseases of Women," p. 162.
  15. "Diseases of Menstruation and Ovarian Inflammation," p. 129.
  16. "Diseases of Women," p. 617.
  17. "The Journal of the Gynæcological Society of Boston," vol. ii., p. 267.
  18. "Uterine Therapeutics," p. 224.
  19. Loc. cit., p. 127.
  20. "The Physiology and Pathology of the Mind," p. 203.
  21. Bourgeois, "The Passions in their Relation to Health and Disease," p. 162, et seq.
  22. Dr. Alfred Wiltshire, "On the Influence of Childbearing on the Muscular Development of Women." Transactions of the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society, vol. ii., p. 237.
  23. "Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy," p. 17.
  24. "The Causation, Course, and Treatment of Reflex Insanity in Women," p. 139.
  25. Ibid., p. 148.
  26. Op. cit., p. 207.
  27. Journal of Psychological Medicine, January, 1851, p. 43.
  28. "Clinical Lectures on Diseases of Women and Children," p. 374.
  29. Dr. Tilt, "The Change of Life in Health and Disease," pp. 164, 185.