Thursday, November 7, 2013

What Every Woman Ought To Know

Back in 6th Grade (way back), our teacher was talking about life for girls in colonial America. Girls were encouraged to learn the"Three R's", Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmatic, and the rest was at-home training for their future lives as homemakers and wives of farmers, laborers, or artisans. If a family was well-off, a girl might have a tutor or governess at home and continue on at a school for young ladies. There, she would study literature, geography, and history. She would learn to speak French reasonably well, to play an instrument or sing, embroider, paint pictures, and dance. Most importantly, she would learn deportment: how a lady should behave. As my teacher was telling us this, my mind wandered (as it usually did), putting myself into that situation. What bliss! What fulfillment! Imagine, eleven-year-old Me, spending all your days doing exactly what you love doing! 

Then (crash back to earth), I realized that she was describing how limited and unfair life was to females of those times. Today, we have choices and opportunities! Alright, I am happy for girls who want to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, and heads of state. But does that mean I can't go to Miss Standstraight's School for Young Ladies and not be considered a sad commentary on the the quality of education for females of today? It was 1963, and the times, they were a-changin'. One thing hasn't changed. If your earning capacity is based on the above skills, you are going to need a tall, dark, second income, as a single friend of mine once commented.

Here we begin the education of Dolly and Minerva. A governess was employed to live in their home and instruct the girls. Being a governess was one of the few respectable opportunities for a woman of good background who found herself with some education and no husband. It was often a lonely life, as she was ranked below the family she worked for, but above the servants, and, therefore, unable to socialize with either group. I'm sure you recognize Jane Eyre. I was in 8th Grade when I read (ate up) this book. It was the 1943 edition with the illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg that captured perfectly the dark agony of the story. Do you remember little Adèle, Jane's pupil? Jane spoke of her so dismissively, as a little "poppet", as the child's mother had taught her to be silly and vain, only thinking of gifts and new dresses. Poor Adèle! I think she turned out alright.

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