OBJECTS IN LIFE—VALUE OF SPECIAL TRAINING
This consideration brings me to a question sufficiently puzzling to the heads of households: What is to be done with girls? About the boys there is less difficulty—they go to college, or they go to learn their profession; they are set to work at once, to prepare for that “opening” which, it is hoped, will introduce them to a profitable career.
Suppose a girl leave school in her eighteenth year; —her eldest sister being already at home for good, her mother’s right hand, and so much identified with all the interests of the family that her career is marked out. The sense of leisure and irresponsibility is delightful at first, and every girl should have a taste of it, just as a grocer is said to give his new apprentices the run of the shop, that they may long no more for figs and raisins. She plays tennis, goes to dances, is allowed to go as much into society as her parents can conveniently arrange for. In her leisure, she paints a little, works a little, practices a little, reads a little French and a good many novels. Her mother assigns her some domestic duties, which she fulfils with more or less care; but these are seldom important enough to call forth all her energy and will. Perhaps she is to sew for the family; but then, the stress of work comes only now and then, in spurts, when everybody helps, and to be regularly and laboriously employed as a sempstress would be intolerable to a girl of spirit and education. She is not exactly idle; her occupations spread fairly well over the day, though they might all be easily crushed into the spare hour or two of a busy woman; she enjoys a good deal of
leisure and pleasure, and her parents look on good-naturedly, glad that she should have her day.
For a few months, perhaps for a year or two, this is delightful; but in a year or two life becomes a burden. To dance with the same people, to play in the same set, to make or listen to the same talk month after month, becomes intolerable. But then, it is objected, she has her home-work, and additional duties can easily be made for her. Not so easily; the mother of the family clings to her own duties, having discovered that, of the two delights of life, work—the duties of our calling—is to be preferred to play. Besides, the girl wants more than work—she wants a career; she wants work that depends upon her, than cannot be done without her, and the doing of which will bring her honour, and, possibly, pay. Let her “improve her mind,” you say? It is hardly the tendency of modern education to make girls in love with knowledge for its own sake, and what they do for their own sakes is too fitful and desultory to yield much profit or pleasure, unless the old spur is applied—the hope of distinction in some public examination.
Now what is the poor girl to do under this craving for a career, which is natural to every adult human being, woman as much as man? Hard things are said of the “girl of the period”; but she deserves more consideration than she gets. People do not allow that she has erred because there has been no such outlet for her energy as her nature demands. In the ‘sixties,’ say, there was, practically, but one career open to the young woman of the lower and upper middle classes. She must wait until the prince comes by, and—throws the handkerchief. The girl with more
energy and ambition than modesty and breeding sees her opportunity here. What if that foolish prince should throw the handkerchief to the wrong maiden and leave her out in the cold, with nothing to do, nothing to look forward to, all the rest of her life? The thing is not to be thought of; she will make it her business to let him know where his favours should fall. And then begins a career indeed, a “hunt,” people call it, exhibiting a very ugly phase of young womanhood on which there is no occasion to dwell.
The well-brought up girl will hardly own to herself that she dreams of this best of all careers for a woman, that of wifehood and motherhood. Maidenliness will not let her put it before her as the thing of which she lives in hope. Indeed, it is not so; her fate in this respect depends so entirely on the mood of some other, that it is impossible for her to allow herself in serious anticipation, though maiden meditation may dwell innocently upon Romeo and Juliet and their kind. Except for these sweet fancies, half illicit in the eyes of many a pure-minded girl, and not too wholesome, the future is a blank; she is in real need of something beyond
“Human nature’s daily food.”
 Already this awakening has taken place so far that perhaps no woman’s work is more in request or better paid than that of the specially trained governess.