Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vocational Guidance for Girls

A visitor of this blog, Rebekah M, was kind enough to share with me a link to a book called Vocational Guidance for Girls, written by Marguerite Stockman Dickson and published in the year 1919. I started reading it and found it highly educative, in the way it portrays the first wave of feminism at the beginning of the 20-th century. Here are some interesting quotes from Chapter 1.

"The home, as a place where work is done, has lost a large part of its excuse for being. Among the poorer classes, women, like their husbands, being obliged to earn, and no longer able to do so in their homes, have followed the work to the factory. As a result we have many thousands of them away from their homes through long days of toil. Among persons of larger income, removal of the home industries to the factory has resulted in increased leisure for the woman—with what results we shall later consider. Practically the only constructive work left which the woman may not shift if she will to other shoulders, or shirk entirely, is the bearing of children and, to at least some degree, their care in early years. The interests once centered in the home are now scattered—the father goes to shop or office, the children to school, the mother either to work outside the home or in quest of other occupation and amusement to which leisure drives her."

"A second change in the conditions affecting home life is found in the increased educational aspirations of women. Once the accepted and frankly anticipated career for a woman was marriage and the making of a home. Her education was centered upon this end. To-day all this is changed. A girl claims, and is quite free to obtain, an education in all points like her brother's, and the career she plans and prepares for may be almost anything he contemplates. She may, or may not, enter upon the career for which she prepares. Marriage may—often does—interfere with the career, although nearly as often the career seems to interfere with marriage. Under the new alignment of ideals, there is less interest shown in homemaking and more in "the world's work," with a decided feeling that the two are entirely incompatible."

Here I will pause to say that perhaps thinking that homemaking and career are entirely incompatible - as was thought back in the times when career was primarily considered as an option for single women - is better than the attitude prevalent today, which claims that homemaking and career are entirely and fully compatible and both can be juggled with ease, without substantial cost to either home, career or children. Now women are expected to be able to do it all. 

"The girl, educated to earn her living in the market of the world, no longer marries simply because no other career is open to her; when she does marry, she is less likely than formerly, statistics tell us, to have children—the only remaining work which, in these days, definitely requires a home. Marriage and homemaking, therefore, are no longer inseparably connected in the woman's mind. Girls are willing to undertake matrimony, but often with the distinct understanding that their "careers" are not to be interfered with. To them, then, marriage becomes more and more an incident in life rather than a life work."

"A third disintegrating influence as affecting home life is the great increase of city homes. Urban conditions are almost without exception detrimental to home life. Congestion means discomfort within the home and decreasing possibility for satisfying there either material or social needs; while on every hand are increasing possibilities for satisfying these needs outside the home. Family life under such conditions often lacks, to an alarming degree, the quality of solidarity which makes the dwelling place a home. No longer the place where work is done, no longer the place where common interests are shared, the home becomes only "the place where I eat and sleep," or perhaps merely "where I sleep." The great increase of urban life during the last half century is thus a very real menace, and, since the agricultural communities constantly feed the towns, the menace concerns the country-as well as the city-dweller."

I must note I think that for us, living in "the country" and having a large yard for our own is a huge boost to pleasant home life. Our home may not be large, but we are not cooped up. I can open the door and easily let little children play outside, while watching over them from the window - something that could never be possible in an apartment building. We have space to grow things, keep animals and take nature walks, all of which gives us exercise, interest and contentment.

 And now to the subject of child-rearing:

"It is a commonly accepted fact that young children do better, both mentally and physically, in even rather poor homes than in a perfectly planned and conducted institution. And we need go no farther than this in seeking a sufficient reason for saving the home. This one is enough to enlist our best service in aid of homemaking and home support.

From earliest ages woman has been the homemaker. No plan for the preservation of the home or for its evolution into a satisfactory social factor can fail to recognize her vital and necessary connection with the problem. Therefore in answer to the question "What ought woman to be?" we say boldly, "A homemaker." Reduced to simplest terms, the conditions are these: if homes are to be made more serviceable tools for social betterment, women must make them what they ought to be. Consequently homemaking must continue to be woman's business—the business of woman, if you like—a considerable, recognized, and respected part of her "business of being a woman." Nor may we overlook the fact that it is only in this work of making homes and rearing offspring that either men or women reach their highest development. Motherhood and fatherhood are educative processes, greater and more vital than the artificial training that we call education. In teaching their children, even in merely living with their children, parents are themselves trained to lead fuller lives."

"Women will bear and rear the children of the future, just as they have borne and reared the children of the past. But under what conditions—the best or those less worthy? And what women—again, the best or those less worthy? Has woman been freed from subjection, from an inferior place in the scheme of life, only to become so intoxicated with a personal freedom, with her own personal ambition, that she fails to see what emancipation really means? Will she be contented merely to imitate man rather than to work out a destiny of her own? We think not. When the first flush of freedom has passed, the pendulum will turn again and woman will find a truer place than she knows now or has known."

Yes! It took a long time, but we're getting there. The daughters and granddaughters of the first feminists are realizing the price home life paid, and they are reclaiming the honor for what was allegedly a "boring" and "menial" occupation. Women are coming home, full-time or part-time, or at least they try to make most of their hours at home, because they realize there is no replacement for spending time with one's children. Also, many are reclaiming the lost home arts by sewing, knitting, cooking and baking from scratch, making jams and preserves at home, etc. Yes, clothing can be cheaply bought, but when you make some items for yourself, you feel satisfaction and get an individual garment no one else has. And yes, it's easiest to pick canned goods off supermarket shelves, but factories will never use traditional slow fermenting and pickling methods, and thus the nutritional values of food are reduced.

"Two obstacles to the successful pursuit of her ultimate vocation stand prominently before the young woman of to-day: first, the instruction of the times has imbued her with too little respect for her calling; second, her education teaches her how to do almost everything except how to follow this calling in the scientific spirit of the day. She may scorn housework as drudgery, but no voice is raised to show her that it may be made something else."

It is amazing how relevant this quote is even today, almost a hundred years later. 

I will certainly continue reading! 


Anonymous said...

Excellent! Thank you for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

It sounded like an intriguing book, at first, but this quote:

"A girl claims, and is quite free to obtain, an education in all points like her brother's, and the career she plans and prepares for may be almost anything he contemplates."

ruined it for me. Assuming the author was American and talking about the US, she is absolutely wrong and, unfortunately, has lost all credibility. Take everything else she says with a grain of salt.

in His peace,

Carol said...

As a mother I have guided 2 daughters and a son through the public school system in the U.S. My observation is that girls are more comfortable in the high school culture and thrive more; girls hold a majority of class leadership positions. To me it seems that boys struggle more. We worked hard to help our son develop his strengths.

Current statistics show that more young women are attending college now than young men. Young women have a lot of ambition, but is it out of balance? The book states the obvious-- women can't do it all.

I worry that the boys growing up now are getting sidetracked; that we are missing something in helping them develop character and confidence.

As a side note both of my daughters graduated from college with honors. Both are married now. Both wish that they had taken a couple classes in home economics. Unfortunately these classes are being omitted at many high schools.

Jana said...

home is where I have always longed to be and stay. However, after 24 years of marriage my husband ran off with another woman and I'm finding it hard now to find my place in this world.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Jana, I am so very, very sorry. It's heartbreaking when families fall apart. I can only hope G-d will, somehow, provide a way for you to live life in peace and contentment.

Jackie, NYC said...

I realize these comments are older but since you are referring to it in your latest post, perhaps these comments will still be read.
I am very confused by the Anonymous (later signed as Miriam) comment about the author's quote being untrue.
My best friend here in the USA is a 31 year old female who is earning $250,000 a year as a top executive here in NYC at Bank of America. My other friend owns her own Public Relations company. Three other female friends from high school are now doctors and one is a lawyer. I see no reason why the commenter is suggesting that women here in the US do not have the same options as their brothers.
Now if she just meant that she feels women should not pursue those routes, well than that's OK. I am a stay at home mother and honestly have never felt the draw to pursue advanced education or a career. (however, I don't blame my other female friends for doing so) For me, being a full-time mother always seemed like the most rewarding path.
But women in the US, unlike Miriam's comments have every opportunity a man does. In the US, Miriam can sometimes be a minority ethnic name and if she meant rather that she is held back due to ethnic discrimination, then I have to also disagree. I have another friend here in the US, a Hispanic immigrant girl also named Miriam, who is a high-earning accountant with a masters degree.
I just wanted to clarify this for any non-US readers. I honestly have no idea what the commenter Miraim is talking about.

Jackie, NYC said...

PS - Though I took the time to clarify that women have the SAME opportunities here in the US as any man to pursue education/careers, I do want to add that I personally think this book sounds wonderful and truly sums up MY personal beliefs and choices. By the way, the girlfriends I mentioned in my previous comment are not yet mothers but will one day be. Oh, and the one who is a lawyer actually stepped away from that and is now happily staying home to raise two young children permanently. (prior to that she went to one of the US's top law schools and even made partner as a prestigious NYC firm)