Caroline H. Dall, "Woman's Right to Labor;" or, LOW WAGES AND HARD WORK: in Three Lectures, Delivered in Boston, November, 1859 (Boston: Walker, Wise, And Company, 1860)

 

Preface.

. . . [P. vi]: At the very threshold of my work, I confronted a painful task. Before I could press the necessity of exertion, before I could plead that labor might be honored in the public eye, I felt that I must show some cause for the terrible earnestness with [P. vii] which I was moved; and I could only do it by facing boldly the question of "Death or Dishonor?"

"Why not leave it to be understoood?" some persons may object. "Why not leave such work to man?" the public may continue.

In answer to the first question, I would say sthat very few women have much knowledge of this "perishing class," except those actually engaged in ministering to its despair; and that the information I have given is drawn from wholly reliable sources, as the reader may see, but can be obtained only by hours -- nay, days and weeks -- of painful and exhausting study. Very gladly have I saved my audience that necessity: greatly have I abbreviated whatever I have quoted. But I meant to drive the reality of wretchedness home: I wanted the women to whom I spoke to feel for those "in bonds as bound with them;" and to understand, that, to save their own children, male and female, they must be willing to save the children of others. It will be observed that I have said very little in regard to this class in the city of Boston; very little, also, that was definite in regard to our slop-shops [retail stores which carried cheap clothing made by underpaid seamstresses]. The deficiency is intentional. I would not have one woman feel that I had betrayed her confidence, nor one employer that I had singled him out as a victim; and it is almost impossible to speak on such subjects without finding the application made to one's hand. [P. viii] I may say, in general, that a very wide local experience sustains the arguments which I have based on published statistics.

It was also my earnest desire to prepare one article on this subject that might be put into the hands of both sexes; that might be opened to the young, and read in the family circle, without thrilling the reader with any emotion less sacred than religious pity. This cannot be true of the reports of any Moral Reform Society; for in them it is needful to print details so gross and sensual in character as to be fit reading for none but well principled persons of mature age. It is not true of such a work of Dr. Sanger's; for his historical retrospect [Wm. W. Sanger, History of Prostitution (New York: 1860)] furnishes every possible excuse to the vices of youth, and is open to question on every page.

. . . .

P. viii: It would be unjust not to state, that two powerful causes co-operate in the city of Boston, with low wages, to cause the ruin of women: I mean the love of dress, and a morbid disgust at labor.

. . . .

P. ix: But if this subject must be treated at all, why should it not be left to men? Can women deal with it abstractly and fairly? The answer is simple. . . . . Men have been dealing with this great evil, unassisted, for thousands of years. By their own confession, it is as unapproachable and obstinate as ever. Conquered by its perpetual re-appearance, they have come to treat it as an "institution" to be "managed;" not an evil to be abolished, or a blasphemy to be hushed. But these lectures are not written for atheists.

 

I. DEATH OR DISHONOR

. . . .

P. 4: I ask for woman, then, free, untrammelled access to all fields of labor; and I ask it, first, on the ground that she needs to be fed, and [P. 5] that the question which is at this moment before the great body of working women is "death or dishonor:" for lust is a better paymaster than the mill-owner or the tailor, and economy never yet shook hands with crime.

 

. . . [P. 6]: . . . I must repeat with some of you have often heard me say, that a want of respect for labor, and a want of respect for [P. 7] woman, lies at the bottom of all out difficulties, low wages included.

 

. . .

P. 8: It is pretty and lady-like, men think, to [P. 9] paint and chisel: philanthropic young ladies must work for nothing, like the angels. Let them, when they rise to angelic spheres; but, here and now, every woman who works for nothing helps to keep her sister's wages down, -- helps to keep the question of death or dishonor perpetually before the women of the slop-shop.

Why? Because she helps to depress the estimate of woman's ability. What is persistently given for nothing is everywhere thought to be worth nothing.

. . .

P. 32: I consider the question of intellectual ability settled. The volumes of science, mathematics, general literature, etc., which women have given to the world, without sharing to the full the educational advantages of man, seem to promise that they shall outstrip him here, the moment they have a fair start. But I go farther, and state boldly, that women have, from the beginning, done the hardest and most unwholesome work of the world in [P. 33] all countries, whether civilized or uncivilized; and I am prepared to prove it. I do not meant that rocking the cradle and making bread is as hard work as any, but that women have always been doing man's work, and all the outcry society makes against work for women is not to protect women, but a certain class called ladies. Now, I believe that work is good for ladies; so let us look at the truth.

 

II. VERIFY YOUR CREDENTIALS.

. . . [P.60]: More than once have I been to insane asylums with young girls whom active and acceptable employment would have saved from mania; and scores of times have young women of fortune asked me, "What can you give me to do?"

And to this question there is, in the present state of public mind, no possible answer. [P. 61] No woman of rank can find work, if she does not happen to be philanthropic, literary, or artistic in her taste, without braving the influence of home, or, what is next dearest, the social circle, and earning for herself a position so conspicuous as to be painful to the most energetic.

 

III "THE OPENING OF THE GATES."

 

P. 124: "To destroy daughters is to make war upon Heaven's harmony. The more daughters you drown, the more daughters you will have; and never was it known that the drowning of daughters led to the birth of sons."

This passage from the treatise of Kwei Chunk Fu, upon Infanticide, may be translated so as to apply to every Christian nation. The Chinese are not the only people who drown daughters. England, France, and America, the three leading intelligences of the world, are busy at it this moment. The [P. 125] cold, pure wave of the Pacific is a sweeter draught than that social flood of corruption and depression, which, like a hideous quicksand, buries your sisters out of your sight. . . . . you will see that Kwei Fu is right. Let women starve; let them sink into untold depths of horror, without one effort to save them; and for every woman so lost, two shall be born to inherit her fate.