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[Transcriber's Note: Footnotes have been renumbered and moved to the end.]

A Practical Illustration of "Woman's Right to Labor;"


A Letter from Marie E. Zakrzewska, M.D.
Late of Berlin, Prussia

Edited By

Caroline H. Dall,

Author of "Woman's Right To Labor,"
"Historical Pictures Retouched," &c. &c.

"Whoso cures the plague,
Though twice a woman, shall be called a leech."

"And witness: she who did this thing was born
To do it; claims her license in her work."

Aurora Leigh.


To the Hon. Samuel E. Sewall, Faithful Always To "Women And Work," and One
of the Best Friends of The New-England Female Medical College, The Editor
Gratefully Dedicates This Volume.

"The men (who are prating, too, on their side) cry,
'A woman's function plainly is ... to talk.'"

He doubts is, whether we can _do_ the thing
With decent grace we've not yet done at all.
Now do it."

"Bring your statue:
You have room."

"None of us is mad enough to say
We'll have a grove of oaks upon that slope,
And sink the need of acorns."


It is due to myself to say, that the manner in which the Autobiography is
subordinated to the general subject in the present volume, and also the
manner in which it is _veiled_ by the title, are concessions to the
modesty of her who had the best right to decide in what fashion I should
profit by her goodness, and are very far from being my own choice.

Caroline H. Dall.

49. Bradford Street, Boston,
Oct. 30, 1860.

Practical Illustration of "Woman's Right to Labor"

It never happens that a true and forcible word is spoken for women, that,
however faithless and unbelieving women themselves may be, some noble men
do not with heart and hand attempt to give it efficiency.

If women themselves are hard upon their own sex, men are never so in
earnest. They realize more profoundly than women the depth of affection
and self-denial in the womanly soul; and they feel also, with crushing
certainty, the real significance of the obstacles they have themselves
placed in woman's way.

Reflecting men are at this moment ready to help women to enter wider
fields of labor, because, on the one side, the destitution and vice they
have helped to create appalls their consciousness; and, on the other, a
profane inanity stands a perpetual blasphemy in the face of the Most High.

I do not exaggerate. Every helpless woman is such a blasphemy. So, indeed,
is every helpless man, where helplessness is not born of idiocy or
calamity; but society neither expects, provides for, nor defends, helpless

So it happened, that, after the publication of "Woman's Right to Labor,"
generous men came forward to help me carry out my plans. The best printer
in Boston said, "I am willing to take women into my office at once, if you
can find women who will submit to an apprenticeship like men." On the same
conditions, a distinguished chemist offered to take a class of women, and
train them to be first-class apothecaries or scientific observers, as they
might choose. To these offers there were no satisfactory responses. "Yes,"
said the would-be printers, "we will go into an office for six months;
but, by that time, our oldest sisters will be married, and our mothers
will want us at home."

"An apprenticeship of six years!" exclaimed the young lady of a chemical
turn. "I should like to learn very much, so that I could be a chemist, _if
I ever had to_; but poison myself for six years over those 'fumes,' not
I." It is easy to rail against society and men in general: but it is very
painful for a woman to confess her heaviest obstacle to success; namely,
the _weakness of women_. The slave who dances, unconscious of degradation
on the auction-block, is at once the greatest stimulus and the bitterest
discouragement of the antislavery reformer: so women, contented in
ignominious dependence, restless even to insanity from the need of healthy
employment and the perversion of their instincts, and confessedly looking
to marriage for salvation, are at once a stimulus to exertion, and an
obstacle in our way. But no kind, wise heart will heed this obstacle.
Having spoken plain to society, having won the sympathy of men, let us see
if we cannot compel the attention of these well-disposed but thoughtless

"Six years out of the very bloom of our lives to be spent in the
printing-office or the laboratory!" exclaim the dismayed band; and they
flutter out of reach along the sidewalks of Beacon Street, or through the
mazes of the "Lancers."

But what happens ten years afterward, when, from twenty-six to thirty,
they find themselves pushed off the _pavé_, or left to blossom on the
wall? Desolate, because father and brother have died; disappointed,
because well-founded hopes of a home or a "career" have failed;
impoverished, because they depended on strength or means that are
broken,--what have they now to say to the printing-office or the
apothecary's shop? They enter both gladly; with quick woman's wit,
learning as much in six months as men would in a year; but grumbling and
discontented, that, in competing with men who have spent their whole lives
in preparation, they can only be paid at half-wages. What does common
sense demand, if not that women should make thorough preparation for
trades or professions; and, having taken up a resolution, should abide by
all its consequences like men?

Before cases like these my lips are often sealed, and my hands drop
paralyzed. Not that they alter God's truth, or make the duty of protest
against existing wrong any less incumbent: but they obscure the truth;
they needlessly complicate the duty.

Perplexed and anxious, I have often felt that what I needed most was an
example to set before young girls,--an example not removed by superiority
of station, advantage of education, or unwonted endowment, beyond their
grasp and imitation.

There was Florence Nightingale. But her father had a title: it was fair
to presume that her opportunities were titled also. All the girls I knew
wished they could have gone to the Crimea; while I was morally certain,
that the first amputation would have turned them all faint. There was
Dorothea Dix: she had money and time. It was not strange that she had
great success; for she started, a monomaniac in philanthropy, from the
summit of personal independence. Mrs. John Stuart Mill: had she ever
wanted bread? George Sand: the woman wasn't respectable. In short,
whomsoever I named, who had pursued with undeviating perseverance a worthy
career, my young friends had their objections ready. No one had ever been
so poor, so ill educated, so utterly without power to help herself, as
they; and, provoking as these objections were, I felt that they had force.
My young friends were not great geniuses: they were ordinary women, who
should enter the ordinary walks of life with the ordinary steadfastness
and devotion of men in the same paths; nothing more. What I wanted was an
example,--not too stilted to be useful,--a life flowing out of
circumstances not dissimilar to their own, but marked by a steady will, an
unswerving purpose. As I looked back over my own life, and wished I could
read them its lessons,--and I looked back a good way; for I was very
young, when the miserable destitution of a drunkard's wife, whom I
assisted, showed me how comfortable a thing it was to rest at the mercy of
the English common law,--as I looked back over my long interest in the
position of woman, I felt that my greatest drawback had been the want of
such an example. Every practical experiment that the world recorded had
been made under such peculiar circumstances, or from such a fortuitous
height, that it was at once rejected as a lesson.

One thing I felt profoundly: as men sow they must reap; and so must women.
The practical misery of the world--its terrible impurity will never be
abated till women prepare themselves from their earliest years to enter
the arena of which they are ambitious, and stand there at last mature and
calm, but, above all, _thoroughly trained_; trained also at _the side of
the men_, with whom they must ultimately work; and not likely, therefore
to lose balance or fitness by being thrown, at the last moment, into
unaccustomed relations. A great deal of nonsense has been talked lately
about the unwillingness of women to enter the reading-room of the Cooper
Institute, where men also resort.

"A woman's library," in any city, is one of the partial measures that I
deprecate: so I only partially rejoice over the late establishment of such
a library in New York. I look upon it as one of those half-measures which
must be endured in the progress of any desired reform; and, while I wish
the Cooper Institute and its reading-room God-speed with every fibre of my
consciousness, I have no words with which to express my shame at the
mingled hypocrisy and indelicacy of those who object to use it. What woman
stays at home from a ball because she will meet men there? What woman
refuses to walk Broadway in the presence of the stronger sex? What woman
refuses to buy every article of her apparel from the hands of a man, or to
let the woman's tailor or shoemaker take the measure of her waist or foot;
try on and approve her coiffure or bernouse?

What are we to think, then, of the delicacy which shrinks from the
reading-room frequented by men; which discovers so suddenly that magazines
are more embarrassing than mazourkas; that to read in a cloak and hat
before a man is more indelicate than to waltz in his presence half denuded
by fashion?

Of course, we are to have no patience with it, and to refuse utterly to
entertain a remonstrance so beneath propriety.

The object of my whole life has been to inspire in women a desire for
_thorough training_ to some special end, and a willingness to share the
training of men both for specific and moral reasons. Only by sharing such
training can women be sure that they will be well trained; only by
God-ordained, natural communion of all men and women can the highest moral
results be reached.

"Free labor and free society:" I have said often to myself, in these two
phrases lies hidden the future purification of society.

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