As far as I can understand, the line of respectability lies between that which is useful and that which is useless. If women do that which is of no value, their work is honorable. If they do practical work, it is dishonorable. That our young women may escape the censure of doing dishonorable work, I shall particularize. You may knit a tidy for the back of an armchair, but by no means make the money wherewith to buy the chair. You may, with delicate brush, beautify a mantel-ornament, but die rather than earn enough to buy a marble mantel. You may learn artistic music until you can squall Italian, but never sing “Ortonville” or “Old Hundred.” Do nothing practical, if you would, in the eyes of refined society, preserve your respectability.
I scout these finical notions. I tell you a woman, no more than a man, has a right to occupy a place in this world unless she pays a rent for it.
In the course of a lifetime you consume whole harvests, and droves of cattle, and every day you live breathe forty hogsheads of good pure air. You must, by some kind of usefulness, pay for all this. Our race was the last thing created,—the birds and fishes on the fourth day, the cattle and lizards on the fifth day, and man on the sixth day. If geologists are right, the earth was a million of years in the possession of the insects, beasts, and birds, before our race came upon it. In one sense, we were innovators. The cattle, the lizards, and the hawks had pre-emption right. The question is not what we are to do with the lizards and summer insects, but what the lizards and summer insects are to do with us.
If we want a place in this world we must earn it. The partridge makes its own nest before it occupies it. The lark, by its morning song, earns its breakfast before it eats it; and the Bible gives an intimation that the first duty of an idler is to starve, when it says if he “will not work, neither shall he eat.” Idleness ruins the health; and very soon Nature says, “This man has refused to pay his rent; out with him!”
Society is to be reconstructed on the subject of woman’s toil. A vast majority of those who would have woman industrious shut her up to a few kinds of work. My judgment in this matter is, that a woman has a right to do anything she can do well. There should be no department of merchandise, mechanism, art, or science barred against her. If Miss Hosmer has genius for sculpture, give her a chisel. If Rosa Bonheur has a fondness for delineating animals, let her make “The Horse Fair.” If Miss Mitchell will study astronomy, let her mount the starry ladder. If Lydia will be a merchant, let her sell purple. If Lucretia Mott will preach the Gospel, let her thrill with her womanly eloquence the Quaker meeting-house.
It is said, if woman is given such opportunities, she will occupy places that might be taken by men. I say, if she have more skill and adaptedness for any position than a man has, let her have it! She has as much right to her bread, to her apparel, and to her home, as men have.