It is this battle with which we have to do; and we must go back to the dawn of the struggle, and discover what has been its course from the beginning, before any future outlook can be determined. The theoretical political economist settles the matter at once. Whatever stress of want or wrong may arise is met by the formula, “law of supply and demand.” If labor is in excess, it has simply to mobilize and seek fresh channels. That hard immovable facts are in the way, that moral difficulties face one at every turn, and that the ethical side of the problem is a matter of comparatively recent consideration, makes no difference. Let us discover what show of right is on the economist’s side, and how far present conditions are a necessity of the time. It is women on whom the facts weigh most heavily, and whose fortunes are most tangled in this web woven from the beginning of time, and from that beginning drenched with the tears and stained by the blood of workers in all climes and in every age. As women we are bound, by every law of justice, to aid all other women in their struggle. We are equally bound to define the nature, the necessities, and the limits of such struggle; and it is to this end that we seek now to discover, through such light as past and present may cast, the future for women workers the world over.
A look backward.
The history of women as wage-earners is actually comprised within the limits of a few centuries; but her history as a worker runs much farther back, and if given in full, would mean the whole history of working humanity. The position of working women all over the civilized world is still affected not only by the traditions but by the direct inheritance of the past, and thus the nature of that inheritance must be understood before passing to any detailed consideration of the subject under its various divisions. It is the conditions underlying history and rooted in the facts of human life itself which we must know, since from the beginning life and work have been practically synonymous, and in the nature of things remain so.
In the shadows of that far remote infancy of the world where from cave-dweller and mere predatory animal man by slow degrees moved toward a higher development, the story of woman goes side by side with his. For neither is there record beyond the scattered implements of the stone age and the rude drawings of the cave-dwellers, from which one may see that warfare was the chief life of both. The subjugation of the weaker by the stronger is the story of all time; the “survival of the fittest,” the modern summary of that struggle.
Naturally, slavery was the first result, and servitude for one side the outcome of all struggle. Physical facts worked with man’s will in the matter, and early rendered woman subordinate physically and dependent economically. The origin of this dependence is given with admirable force and fulness by Professor Lester F. Ward in his “Dynamic Sociology":—