- from the War Illustrated Deluxe volume 5 page 1702
- 'The Manless Homes of England'
- By Cicely Hamilton
British Womanhood Fills the Gaps While its Manhood Lines the Trenches
pages from a British newsmagazine
Equally with the great love and patriotic devotion of the representative manhood of Britain, the noble attitude of womanhood in our hour of trial proved a pillar of the State whose value cannot be over-estimated. The welter of suffering of war falls mainly upon women, and yet three million husbands, sons, and sweethearts were the gift of our womanhood to the cause of humanity. In the absence of this great and immortal company many opportunities were afforded to women further to prove their patriotism by helping the great machine of State to run smoothly. Appropriately enough, problems which obsessed the world at peace were automatically solved by the world at war. In view of the important part played by women in the struggle, the following article by Miss Cicely Hamilton, the well-known author dramatist, and student of social questions, concerning the present and future effects of Armageddon on femininity, has been specially written for these pages.
The Great War is not only going to leave us poor; it is going to leave us to a certain extent nervously exhausted; to a certain extent, may be, at a loose end. Even we who are women may find some difficulty in settling down to a life which has been shorn of a fierce and terrible interest. We have been living lately as we have never lived before consciously as members of a nation; have suffered when the nation suffered, and have prospered only when it prospered. With peace, inevitably, will come a change in our outlook. We shall largely lose the sense of communal interest; we shall be thrown back again on our own lives and surroundings, and it may be that, at first, they may seem very small and uninspiring. It is one of the eternal ironies that the process of construction, of building up, can only be accomplished slowly and brick by brick, while destruction can always be dealt with swiftness, and dealt on a grand scale. You can stab a man in a moment, and the wound will take weeks to heal. With enough dynamite at your disposal you can blow a city to atoms; it will take you years of planning and patient work to rebuild it. So, after the ruin and tempest and extravagance of war, we shall return to the day of small things, which, of old, we have been warned not to despise.
Small economies, for instance we used to call them petty economieshave, before now, helped a nation out of desperate straits. When France, after the war of 1870-71, lay prostrate at the feet of Germany, and her conqueror extracted from her an indemnity then deemed enormous, it was the small economies of her citizens that wiped off the debt in half the time that Bismarck had allotted for its payment. There will be no indemnity, please Heaven, for us to pay after this war; but all the same, we shall have to shoulder the cost of it. And the cost, as far as many women are concerned, will be the best shouldered by estimating in advance what is necessary to the decent and healthy conduct of life, and doing it without the rest.
Women's Share of the Nation's Duty
It goes without saying that to women must necessarily fall, in large part at least, that share of the nation's plain duty which consists in the shielding and safeguarding of children left orphans by war. The nation, no doubt, will act honourably by them, but that meanscan only mean that the nation will pay, in money and material assistance, a price for their fathers' blood. More than that the State cannot dois precluded by its nature from doing; the community is far too large and too clumsy to be much of a success as a parent. Nevertheless, there will be, I imagine, a distinct danger, as a result partly of the exhaustion to which I have alluded above, partly of the increase in the power of the official to which we shall have accustomed ourselves before the war is overa distinct danger that we shall leave too much to the State and the institution. With the loosening of the bonds which have held us together in times of peril we may wax idle and carelessmay expect of the State and the institution a duty they can never perform, a duty private and personal.
The Guardianship of Fatherless Children
One should never be too proud to learn from the wisdom of an enemy; and a German institution which, it seems to me, we might copy with advantage to ourselves is a system of human, individual guardianship, designed to soften the heavy-handed methods of the State in its dealings with fatherless children. Each creature born, it is declared in principle, has a right to the care of two parents; therefore the child left orphaned or born out of wedlock can claim a substitute for its father. This substitute, formally appointed, has no financial responsibility as regards his ward; is not entitled (save in abnormal cases) to interfere between parent and child; but has otherwise the rights and position of a guardian nearly related. He is expected to inquire into conditions at school and at work; it is his business to see that the boy or girl is well and happily educated; his advice and help can be claimed as a right by the mother; and, should necessity arise, he can represent his ward and the interests of his ward in the law courts. He, I have writtenbut it has been found in practice that the duties of such a post are best performed by a woman that between a woman, her ward, and his mother, the relationship loses its legal complexion, and tends to become intimate and personal.
Would it not be possible for the State to give its sanction to some such relationship with us? And, by giving its sanction, not only strengthen it, but remove it from the realm of charity? There must be some thousands of educated women who would gladly supplement the price of blood paid by the nation by work of their own for a child; who would esteem it a privilege as well as a duty to stand at the side of a woman left lonely, and help with the care of her children. The system, of course, would not be confined to war orphans, though it might well be inaugurated primarily for their benefit.
Now, especially, there would be little or no difficulty about the inauguration of such a system; one thing the war has made easy is the knitting up of personal relationships. Over here, in Franceand I doubt not the same thing has happened at homethere are thousands of women who, in the months since the war began, have established friendly relations by letter with friendless soldiers in the trenches friendly relations in which they take pleasure and pride. The practice on the part of the Frenchwoman is the outcome of gratitude which seeks to express itself in real and personal help; and there is much gratitude seeking to express itself to-day. We should do well to take advantage of it before the day of lassitude and exhaustion dawnswhen new departures of any kind may be difficult.
There is another possible consequence of the war, which we should do well to ponder and prepare for. One of the results alike of the want and the restlessness which will follow in the footsteps of peace will, in all probability, be an increase in the number of our emigrants. Men who have thrown up their occupations to fight in Flanders and in France will find it hard to go back to the counter and the desk. It will not only be by the numbers of her dead that Britain will lose her sons; emigration, always easier for the man, will augment still further our preponderance of women over men. That will mean, obviously, a further fall in the marriage rate, a further rise in the number of women who have to earn their living. It will mean also that the public opinion of the next few years will be chiefly the opinion of women.
It would be well, however, if we realised the position and its meaning, realised that upon the women of Britain will fall much of the work of reconstruction, and that the folly or wisdom of the next few years will have the feminine touch. The responsibility for education will be more and more in their handsand by education I do not mean only the accepted methods of instruction and school routine, but that newspapers and books will be written for women, and react on the new generation. Then, whether they have direct representation or not, public measures will be taken with a view to the approval of women. If I am right in this, the opportunity we asked for has come, the power we clamoured for so long and so earnestly now lies very close to our hand. One can only hope that we shall know-how to use it arightscrupulously, with patience, and with tolerance. To attain an end, however holy, it must be worked for, and worked for intelligently with the head as well as with the heart. We have all of us hated war in our hearts, but our heads were not able to avert it.
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