Monday, 14 October 2013

6 March 1880 - 'American Women'

A brief glance across the pond, where women be teaching, manufacturing money and stamps, and running a prison which isn't actually named but having had a quick Google might have been the Massachusetts Correctional Institution maybe? This short piece doesn't have an author credited (a frequent occurrence in the GOP), and I'm not certain whether the quotation from the Member of Parliament for Rochdale (one Thomas Bayley Potter I think) is supposed to end somewhere in the first few lines and the closing quotation mark got lost somewhere on the way, or whether this whole piece is a transcript of the speech. I think the latter.

The Member of Parliament for Rochdale, in a recent speech on Fur Trade with America, said: "We trouble ourselves far too much as to what woman's mission is. They don't seem to have that difficulty in America. One grand mission of women is the education of the young. Go to the high schools in Boston, or New York, or Philadelphia, or Chicago, or even across the border into our own territory, and go to them in Montreal, and see the bright, intelligent, and handsome girls who are conducting the education of the classes. In the neighbourhood of Boston I went to a college which owes its existence to the benevolence of one man, a M. Durant. It is a college mainly for the education of 350 young ladies, from eighteen to three and twenty years of age, in their great mission of instruction of the young. In the States from 250,000 to 300,000 ladies are required to conduct the schools throughout the country, and the Wellesley College is an institution for the training of such ladies. Bear in mind it is not a free college. The expense which a young lady incurs there is about £50 a year, which embraces lodgings in a magnificent palatial building, and every advantage of the college.

These young ladies know their mission. They don't lose one atom of their attractiveness because they take up that mission, but throughout the land they are respected and loved for the usefulness of the employment which they have chosen. In Washington when I visited the Treasury, the secretary, Mr Sherman, told me with something of pride that they employed 650 women, young ladies, in that establishment. It is there that they manufacture the paper money. There had been times when they have had rather too great facilities for manufacturing it. They manufacture the stamps to tax various articles, and I told Mr Sherman that if I could have my own way I could dispense with that particular work. Still, 650 women are employed in that establishment in the most important and useful duties.

We sometimes in England doubt whether women will acquit themselves in positions of power over other women, or in other positions in the general community; but in Boston I went down with a kind friend, Governor Rice, to an establishment which, during his governorship of Massachusetts, he had in the main helped to establish. It was a model prison for women, and contained 450 prisoners. The governor, or rather governess, was a woman. The doctor was a woman, the chaplain was a woman, the warders were women, and there was not a man in the establishment - not a male except the poor little infants in the nursery. I went with sadness through the institution and looking at some of the faces I said to Mrs Atkinson, who is at the head of the establishment, and who is worth going all the way to Boston to see, for she has the character and physique befitting the position which she holds - I said to her "The faces of these poor women are almost all of a hopeless type". "Hopeless," she replied - "that is not a word we permit in this establishment, Mr Pptter, we hope for all".

We have heard about prison reform but it did seem to me the angel of mercy in the shape of woman came with her blessing on that establishment. We looked at the solitary cells of these poor women, which they were allowed to decorate with a few pictures friends might give them - a few cuttings from an illustrated paper - or to grow in them a few ferns and flowers. As one poor woman said, "It is great kindness on their part to permit us this great favour". In that nursery of poor children who had arrived when their mothers were in prison, it was a touching thing to observe the kindness of the head of the establishment to each mother and child, though but the child of a State prisoner. It was good to see the look of pleasure which passed across each mother's face when a kindly notice was given of her child by the ladies who were visiting the prison, and I came away from that establishment glad to have seen the experiment, hopeful of its success, and confident that woman was not exceeding her mission in undertaking such a responsibility as was undertaken by Mrs Atkinson and her able colleagues.

No comments:

Post a Comment