Every-day Thoughts in Prose and Verse
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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Unmarried Women.
    The spinster has ever been treated with a
certain lightness and disrespect.  In olden
times this treatment extended into personal life,
and the "old maid" was more or less an object
of levity to younger members of the family and in
the neighborhood.  This was in the days when girls
were expected to marry in their "teens," and when
twenty was considered a dangerous period to reach
with no prospect of a wedding in view.
    In those times the outlook for the spinster was a
most hopeless one.   She knit and spun and wove
and embroidered, she was her mother's companion,
and she went to church and prayer meeting and to
teas given by old ladies who talked of nothing but
their domestic affairs and the gossip about approach-
ing marriages of younger girls, interspersed with
jests at her single state.  She was sent for to help
nurse the sick and to look after the poor of the
town in company with the clergyman's wife, and
these dreary duties bounded her horizon.
    But all that is greatly changed by the progress of
the world.  Girls seldom marry under twenty, and
the advance of woman in freedom and independence
of action has enlarged the horizon of the spinster.
In fact, the name is no longer used to any extent.
It is now the "girl bachelor" who between twenty-
five and thirty-five pursues her art, her profession,
her studies or her fad, and who goes about alone or
in company with other girl bachelors and enjoys life
to its utmost.  This is the position of the spinster
to-day in cities and the larger towns, and through
her independence, her enjoyment of her opportun-
ities, her culture and power of pleasing, she is
exempt from the ridicule and pity which fell to her
lot in days of yore.
    But the environed spinster still exists in smaller
towns, and it is to her I would speak or those who
surround her in the position of parents or relatives.
    Almost invariably the parents or relatives of such
a woman take it for granted that she is submitting
to her lot cheerfully, and her own pride fosters this
delusion.  She parries the thrusts of her young
married friends and declares that she would not
change places with them, pointing out the unhappy
or divorced couples as proof of the desirability of
her lot.  Her parents and relatives listen to all this
and fall back on the conclusion that she is wholly
satisfied with her life, and therefore they make no
effort to brighten her lot or to occupy her mind.
Meanwhile there are cyclones of rebellion and tor-
nadoes of despair going on in the girl's heart.  She
has no profession, and the simple duties of the home
life, which were mere play when she was a young
girl, looking forward to an evening's frolic with her
companions, become insupportable now that they
form her only occupation.  There is nothing to do
in the evening unless it is to attend a dull card
party of married people and listen to their jests
about her single state.  She carries a brave front
and a ready reply, but her heart is slowly breaking
in the meantime.  The undiscerning parents or
married brothers and sisters see the smile and never
dream of the heartache under it.  But they are
inexcusably blind and dull that they do not.  Human
beings are but a continuation of plant life.
    It is natural for them to have their time to bud,
to flower, to yield fruit.  If circumstances besides
these result, a law of nature has been perverted, and
a broken law always brings suffering.  Relatives
ought to think of these things in a natural way, and
to do all in their power to brighten and lend variety
to the life of the girl who sees a spinsterhood as her
inevitable fate.  Instead of making cruel and sense-
less jokes on the subjects, they should be planning
some pleasure for her.  They should club together
and purchase a railroad ticket and send her away on
some pleasant visit, or they should aid her to pursue
some line of study or accomplishment which will
broaden her mind and divert her thoughts.
    But we find them, instead, sneering or frowning at
any such suggestion of hers and assuring her that
she is too old to begin to do such things; leave that
for younger people.  If she wants to make a visit
or take a journey, they ask her what in the world
makes her so restless, and assure her that she has
reached a time of life when she ought to be satisfied
to settle down and keep quiet.
    Yet this is the very time of life when "to settle
down and keep quiet" is torture.  The woman of
natural impulses, who has the normal craving for a
home, love and children of her own, does not resign
these things without a struggle.  Nor is it a
struggle in which she can conquer herself easily or
at once.  It is an ever recurring battle which she
must fight over and over again.  To imagine that
she can be satisfied with a monotonous round of
domestic duties and to be an onlooker at the
domestic hearths of her relatives and friends, is to
intimate that her heart is made of wood.  It does
not matter how many cases of unhappy marriages
she refers to and rejoices that she has escaped a
similar lot.  In her soul's secret chamber lies the
slowly dying dream of a happy married life.  Every
girl is born into the world with this dream in her
breast, and when it dies there is a grave in her
heart.  Instead of putting thorns on that grave, why
not seek to cover it with roses of thoughtful deeds
and protecting kindness?
Every-day thoughts in prose and verse. by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1901.
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