Sir Richard Whittington: Lord Mayor of London

G.P. Putnam's sons
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Publisher
G.P. Putnam's sons
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Published on
Dec 31, 1881
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Pages
222
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Language
English
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Those who begin to consider the subject of the working woman discover presently that there is a vast field of inquiry lying quite within their reach, without any trouble of going into slums or inquiring of sweaters. This is the field occupied by the gentlewoman who works for a livelihood. She is not always, perhaps, gentle in quite the old sense, but she is gentle in that new and better sense which means culture, education, and refinement. There are now thousands of these working gentlewomen, and the number is daily increasing. A few among them—a very few—are working happily and successfully; some are working contentedly, others with murmuring and discontent at the hardness of the work and the poorness of the pay. Others, again, are always trying, and for the most part vainly, to get work—any kind of work—which will bring in money—any small sum of money. This is a dreadful spectacle, to any who have eyes to see, of gentlewomen struggling, snatching, importuning, begging for work. No one knows, who has not looked into the field, how crowded it is, and how sad a sight it presents.

For my own part I think it is a shame that a lady should ever have to stand in the labour market for hire like a milkmaid at a statute fair.

I think that the rush of women into the labour market is a most lamentable thing. Labour, and especially labour which is without organization or union, has to wage an incessant battle—always getting beaten—against greed and injustice: the natural enemy of labour is the employer, especially the impecunious employer; in the struggle women always get worsted. Again, in whatever trade or calling they attempt, the great majority of women are hopelessly incompetent. As in the lower occupations, so in the higher, the greatest obstacle to success is incompetence. How should gentlewomen be anything but incompetent? They have not been taught anything special, they have not been 'put through the mill'; mostly, they are fit only for those employments which require the single quality that everybody can claim—general intelligence. Hopeless indeed is the position of that woman who brings into the intellectual labour market nothing but general intelligence. She is exactly like the labourer who knows no trade, and has nothing but his strong frame and his pair of hands. To that man falls the hardest work and the smallest wage. To the woman with general intelligence is assigned the lowest drudgery of intellectual labour. And yet there are so many clamouring for this, or for anything. A few months ago a certain weekly magazine stated that I, the writer, had started an Association for Providing Ladies with Copying Work—all in capitals. The number of letters which came to me by every post in consequence of that statement was incredible. The writers implored me to give them a share of that copying work; they told terrible, heart-rending stories of suffering. Of course, there was no such Association. There is, now that typewriting is fairly established, no copying work left to speak of. Even now the letters have not quite ceased to arrive.

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