Saturday, 21 May 2016

17 July 1880 - 'What Our Girls May Do' by Alice King

You may do anything that is good and proper and useful - except anything that men do, that would be wrong. 

We do not want to say what our girls may not do, because "may not" has a sound of the schoolroom about it which would take away from the pleasant freedom of the little chat we mean to have with our girls today. That our talk together may be more cheery and hearty we will ask our girls to fancy themselves sitting with us around the Christmas fire, with the frosty air outside filled with the glitter of stars and the melody of bells; or wandering through the summer woods, with their hands filled with honeysuckle and yellow pimpernel and musk-scented stork's-bill, with bird and brook making fair harmony hard by.

In the first place, our girls may try to do anything which is useful. They love to play at being useful from the time when they can first toddle, and they may begin to do it in earnest as soon as ever they are able. But how can we be useful, they will ask? They can begin very early to do a deal of good in their families by influencing their younger brothers and sisters, by keeping the rough word off the little boy's lips, by showing the tiny maiden that to be a Christian girl means to be as bright as the flowers, as full of their sweetness that spreads perfume round; is to be as pure as the dewdrop, as blithe as the skylark's song. The little ones are far more free n talk and manner with you than they are with elder people, and so you have opportunities with them which do not belong even to their mothers.

Our girls may also do much in the way of influencing their schoolboy brothers, and instilling into them reverence for womanhood. Girls are too much inclined to look upon it as a merit to give themselves up patiently to be teased by their brothers. Far from this, they should show them that even the sweetest tempered girl has a touch of queenliness about her, which demands a certain degree of careful, tender respect from men, which forbids rude acts and words in her presence. Thus will our lads learn early from their sisters the meaning of chivalry, and every woman whom they shall meet in their life's journey will bless those sisters for what they did long ago.

There is good work at home for our girls in giving a high, right tone of thought and feeling to young female servants. Girls, perhaps, are not aware how much their dress and manners form the dress and manners of the servants' hall and kitchen; and there is no truer saying than that servants grow like their mistresses. They should, therefore, endeavour to show any girls of a lower social rank than their own what is the meaning of modest grace, of Christian womanliness. They should seek to make them feel that they are their friends, and to win their confidence, so that they will tell them all their little troubles and difficulties, and let themselves be helped by the young ladies' superior intelligence and education. They should provide, as far as they can, rational amusements for them; they should send or take them to places of interest, Bible classes, and sewing parties.

A wide and beautiful field of work and influence opens before our girls as we take them to the doors of our Sunday-schools and bid them enter there. Here is a task that angels smile to look upon. Here is a garden in which seeds may be planted that will bring forth flower and fruit - first for man below, then for heaven above. Here are earnest young faces, who will catch their first ray of God's light from their teacher's eyes; and our girls, with their bright looks and pretty winning ways, are so much more able and likely to attract children than graver and older folks; their young fancies will find such congenial exercise in weaving Bible stories into word-pictures  for the little ones to gaze at and learn from; their fresh, brave, living courage will break down barriers of dullness, and make its way into sluggish brains, where other and more jaded teachers would fail. Yes, our girls are the God-appointed teachers of our English Sunday-schools.

This work of Sunday-school teaching may lead on our girls as they grow older, and, if they feel that they have real talent and love  for the business, to yet a broader and higher sphere of influence in keeping adult classes for men and women. What a light and a sweetness come into the daily life of mothers and maidens who are toiling along bearing a heavy burden made up of small pressing household cares and wants, when a sister, from a different station from their own, steps down to walk for a while at their side to cheer them with glance and word of sympathy.

The men, too, when they gather round their lady teacher, what refinement do they draw from mere contact with her gentle voice and manners - refinement that gradually colours their home lives, their intercourse with sweethearts and wives and daughters. How do they gradually learn to yield to her soft but queenly influence, and to be ashamed of coarse vices when they enter her presence. How ready do they grow to listen while she shows them the upward way - to follow her kindly yet steadfast leading. If our girls want work that will call out every noblest most earnest faculty of heart and soul, let them strive to train themselves for work like this.

We have dwelt thus on what our girls may do in different ways in the matter of influence, because in these days, when there is so much said and written about what women may and may not do, we do not think that our young ladies are sufficiently shown the beauty and the importance of what is woman's highest earthly mission - the mission of influence.

Sweet English girls, as you go forward in life never forget or waste this mighty power which lies in your hands, but hold and prize it as a solemn, precious trust from God; and use it so that one day your ears may hear with joy the blessed words, "Well done, good and faithful servants."

With regard to learning language, music, and drawing, we would tell our girls that they may most decidedly do any of these things if they have a talent for them, but that if they have no talent they had just as decidedly better leave them untried. There exists a sort of traditional belief in many respectable English families that all daughters of the house must be taught to play on the piano. We would advise our girls resolutely to strive to break down this notion; for by so doing they will spare the ears of friends and guests a deal of unmerited suffering, and will save for themselves much valuable time, which they can employ in things that they can really do with will and pleasure.

And we would strongly caution our girls against learning too many things at once, as a quick, vivid young female mind is always too apt to try to do; they should recollect  that the concentration of every faculty on one point has been the chief secret of all the greatest and best work that has been done in the world; that we make much more mark in society by doing one thing well than twenty things tolerably.

In these days, when literary work is so readily given to women, our girls may try their hand at composition in prose or verse, if they have a real talent for either; but we would emphasise that *if most strongly. We would caution our girls to be very severe with themselves on this point; for in the matter of authorship, nothing is easier than to fancy, especially if our minds are young and ardent, that our bits of coloured glass are real jewels. The path of literature is often at first an uphill, weary path, even for genius; and we would most earnestly warn our dear girls, as they value their own happiness, unless they are very sure that they have a decided call in a gift given by God for treading it, to pause before they enter upon it.

To go from intellectual work to work with the hands, needlework is a thing which every girl ought to do, and which never ought to be left out of female education. As for fancy work, that may be done by a girl in her hours of amusement if she does not waste too much time over it. In fancy work we do not of course include the beautiful art needlework of the present day, which needs just as much a special talent in those who undertake it as painting or music.

Our girls may do a deal of fair and excellent work for both God and man in visiting the sick and poor and aged. It will bring their sweet young lives into contact with gloom and sadness; but they may go fearlessly into those dark places, since Christian girls will carry with them there a lamp lit at the flame of the "Light of the world." Let them take their Bibles in their hands; let them speak boldly out of the words of eternal life in the homes of want and disease; let them add a few simple drops of sympathy that fall from their warm young hearts; and for those they seek to comfort and for themselves "it shall be well." Work of this sort may also lead them on in after life, if they form no  close ties, and if they have a real gift  for the task, to become sick nurses - a branch of female duty in which women with cultivated minds and soft ladies' hands and delicate ladies' tact are so needed.

If a girl has a liking for cookery she will be putting herself in the way of doing probable good work in her future by attending classes on the subject, and trying little experiments at home. In such interests there is nothing beneath the dignity of a lady; the woman who thinks there is must have more foolish pride in her than good sense. Health, and especially the health of men of sedentary employments, depends in a great measure, on the way in which food is prepared; women should remember that the preservation of health is no mean object. If it is to be a girl's fate to be the mistress of a family, where there is only a  limited income, skill in cookery may prove a real blessing to all around her.

In conclusion, we would say to our girls one earnest warning word about what they may not do. They may not do any of those things which make them imitators of men; they may not try to break down the God-appointed fence which divides their departments in the world's great workshop from the departments of men; by so doing they only lose their own queenliness without gaining a single ray of male royalty in its place. Let our girls aim at being nothing but women - noble, brave, broad-hearted women - active alike with mind and hands; strong, earnest workers for God and man, and theirs shall be a fair and radiant story, that shall grow ever brighter and yet more bright.

No comments:

Post a Comment