To you, madam, the wife and mother, I address
An Address to Wives.
myself. You may have no need of my remarks;
they may not apply to you. If they do, you will
know it, whether you confess it or not. But I am
quite certain you will be able to think of some one
or more of your acquaintances to whom they will
The type of woman I am writing about to-day
exists everywhere. She is in the ultra-fashionable
circles, she is to be found over the washtubs in the
tenements, and she prevails largely in the space
between the two extremes.
In the country, where women do their own work,
I have found her numerously, and in villages and
towns where she keeps one or several domestics she
It makes no difference whether she is rich or
poor, fortunate or unfortunate. When a woman
has allowed herself to become a petty tyrant in dis-
position, she will find cause and occasion to exercise
her peculiar talents to make everybody about her
miserable, no matter what her surroundings. Of
course, selfishness is at the root of it. Yet perhaps
you are a woman who keep your family miserable
mentally, and yet you tell me that you are unsel-
You do the work of a domestic to save your hus-
band the expense because he is not prosperous in
money matters, and you do all the sewing for the
children, and you deny yourself comforts for the
sake of your family in order that the husband and
children may enjoy luxuries, perhaps.
But, my dear madam, how can they enjoy these
luxuries when you tell them twenty times a week
how you have slaved and saved for their sakes?
Why have not you the good sense to see that they
would be happier if you took life easily and smiled
at them and let them work and save for you? They
would rather a thousand times do this, and see a
happy, cheerful face about the home, and hear loving
words and hopeful talk, than to see the despairing
face you carry about, and to hear your never-
ending tale of toil and sacrifice.
You pretend to be a Christian, I presume, but the
woman who is always describing her own good
actions, and who makes everybody about her utterly
wretched by her constant reference to her sacri-
fices for their sake, is no Christian. Christ will be
ashamed to own her when she gets out of her
You say you want your family to appreciate what
you are doing, and you are obliged to remind your
husband and children of your unselfish labors and
economies or they would take them as a matter of
course after a while. Let me answer you, madam,
that nobody ever appreciated a favor of which he
was reminded every day in the week by the doer,
and to talk about your favors to others is as bad or
worse than forgetting others' favors to you.
Discontinue your labors for your family a while
if you think the members do not appreciate you.
Lie down and read, and be cheerful and amiable
and affectionate, and see how quickly husband and
children will spring to your aid.
This is a far better way of getting attention than
by demanding it.
The woman tyrant has an idea that she must
always be first in every way in the consideration of
each member of her household. I have known her
to make a scene because her husband sat for an
hour with their daughter and a girl friend who had
just returned from boarding school, while the
mother was writing letters in another room!
But she was accustomed to having her husband
come at once to her side when he returned from
business, and she considered it a slight and a lack
of proper courtesy when he lingered with any one
else, even his own daughter, for an hour.
This is a poor way to keep a man in love with
you. Only a weak man would submit to it. The
man I refer to was not a weak man in any sense
save that he longed for a peaceful home. He sub-
mitted to his wife's tyranny in a great degree
merely to keep peace, and he finally died insane.
It was small wonder. Constant association
with a man or woman who is a petty tyrant wears
the brain far more than a great sorrow or
The wife who makes herself so adorably sweet
and charming that a man prefers her society to that
of any other person never needs demand his
It is far more flattering to know a man seeks you
because nowhere else can he receive such a wel-
come, such thoughtfulness for his comfort, such
pleasing attentions, or hear such agreeable conver-
sation, than to glory in the thought that you have
forced him to obey you by making a painful scene.
The sort of woman who is always working her-
self to death for the physical comforts of her hus-
band and children, and then ruins the mental
atmosphere of the home by her moods and her
arbitrary rules, is in my estimation far worse than
the indolent and neglectful mother who lets others
bear her burdens but keeps placid and good-
I have seen a home spoiled by a fine housekeeper
and a careful economizer who made the meal hour
a time to dread for every member of the family.
If any one chanced to be ten minutes late, it led
to a lecture upon the care and toil which had been
bestowed upon the preparation of the repast and
the necessity of its being partaken of while fresh
and hot, and the inconvenience it caused others
--herself or the domestics--to have members of the
family late, and so on and so on, forever, like
Tennyson's brook, until starvation would have been
rapture compared to listening.
How much kinder it would have been to clear
away the dinner and to tell the tardy boy that he
would have to take what he could find on his return,
as the hour for dinner was over! Told this with a
smile, the boy would have been more content with
a sandwich and a cup of water than with a full
course dinner served with a tirade of scolding.
If you are a woman of this kind, oh, let me beg
of you to realize that it is not what you do for your
dear ones which makes a home, but it is how you
do it, and what your tone and your eyes express to
them far more than what your hands perform.
And let me tell you another thing. You have no
right to spoil the lives of those about you by your
whims, your narrow judgments, your arbitrary
rules, or your self-centered notions and the thousand
intangible and indescribable ways in which women
like you have at their command for rendering every-
What you need is a good strong master. A man
who will say to you, "Madam, I married a woman
I respected, believing her to be possessed of good
sense and a desire to make me happy. You are for-
feiting my respect, you are showing very little good
sense, and you are rendering me miserable. I
shall be obliged to take up my quarters at the club
unless you can control yourself and change your
system of tactics."
It will be well for you also if your children make
an open revolt against your petty tyranny and get
away from your control.
It is perfectly useless for husband or children to
yield to the home tyrant. The more they yield, the
more intolerant and domineering she will become.
It is absolutely useless, also, to argue with her.
She is not amenable to reason. The only thing to
do is to take a quiet, determined stand and main-
tain it; and if she continues to nag and scold and
irritate, to get away from her influence, for there is
no tie of blood or duty which gives one person the
right to ruin the happiness of another.
And yet everywhere, all about us, beautiful homes
are to be found which are mere pauper houses, so
far as happiness is concerned, because of some one
member of the family who is a petty tyrant, a nag-
ger, and a peace destroyer.
Sometimes it is the husband and father, but no
man, unless it be an invalid, has the power to make
or mar the home as every wife and mother has.
It is the presiding mentality--the person who is
constantly in the house--who makes its spiritual
atmosphere. Thoughts are like odors, and they fill
the space we occupy with their emanations.
A woman has the opportunity to so dominate a
home with her sweet, restful, kind, cheerful thoughts
that she can overcome the influence of a crotchety
man during the few hours he is in the house.
One of the most peaceful houses I ever entered
was made so by the sunny-hearted wife of a cross-
grained husband. The mother's view of life was
reflected by the children, and in spite of an unami-
able host, guests found the house full of rest and
Where the wife and mother possesses the despond-
ent or tyrannical nature, however, there is small
chance for husband or children to make the home
anything but a place to sleep. Only when one is
locked in the arms of Morpheus is peace to be found
under the roof with such a woman.
And yet these women are almost always devout
churchgoers, and usually regarded by their neighbors
as devoted wives and mothers who are sacrificing
their best interests for the sake of an unappreci-
It is only those who dwell under the roof with
them, day after day, who realize the enormity of
their crimes, for it is one of the worst crimes in the
calendar to destroy the happiness of a home.
There is nothing in life for any man or woman
who has an uncomfortable, discordant home.
Wealth, honor, and fame are of no use to one who
goes back to his own roof with dread.
The petty-minded woman tyrant invariably saves
all her worries and cares and bodily aches to talk
about upon the return of husband or children, in
order that they may appreciate how much she
suffers for their sakes in her effort to keep the home
She does not realize that a little dust and disorder
in the home could be borne better than so much
mental disorder, as her conversation indicates. Not
that either is necessary--there is no earthly reason
why a woman cannot perform all the duties which
love prompts and life requires, and retain a cheerful
and agreeable deportment at the same time.
But if one of the two must be neglected, let it
always be the physical duty. Somebody else can be
found who will do that for you; no one else can be
agreeable and cheerful for you.
And remember this! You are not a good wife or
a good mother or a good Christian, though, if you
work your hands to the bone for your husband and
children and deny yourself comforts for their sake,
if you are complaining, scolding, and making scenes
over the daily annoyances which occur in every
Unless you are amiable, cheerful, optimistic and
agreeable in your family, you are a bad wife, a bad
mother, and a bad citizen.
Every-day thoughts in prose and verse. by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1901.