OF WOMAN ON NATIONAL CHARACTER
Nora A. Gordon, Class of '88
We are fully
aware of the fact, that words are not expressive enough, and our conception
is too limited, to measure the boundless influence of an educated Christian
woman; for it is woman that lays her hand with resistless power upon the character
of a nation. Knowing the history of the world, and noticing the rise and fall
of the moral standard of humanity, we can undeniably say that, through all
ages, woman, by her influence, has either led those about her to love high
and good things or else to be content with low and mean things.
Woman has more influence than man, and she wields it for good or bad. It has been said that woman at her best and worst differs as heaven and hell. If educated and Christianized, she sways the sceptre of her influence for God and humanity; but, if ignorant and sinful, she is the most powerful agency in the hands of Satan to lead the world to ruin.
As daughter, wife, sister, or mother, woman needs an education as high and broad and varied as man's. Woman in the home is invaluable. Home can never be happy and refined without her. Think of the numberless great men who owe their all to the mother that in infancy impressed indelibly upon their hearts the stamp of pure and noble principle that was in itself a prophecy of what was to be long, long before the events which made them famous found place upon the deathless pages of history. Who can number the times that wayward sons and brothers, have been restrained from going to utter ruin by the remembrance of a loving mother or sister, who influence in the home had been as "sweet as the fragrant flower, and their words, as the dewdrops?"
In a community, woman is the attraction that holds society and homes together, and the influence of her education is so helpful, that the world is wiser and better by every day of her life.
Fortunately, the records of the past and present give an array of saintly women whose virtues have made the world better. Chief among these were the wives and daughters of the Bible, even from Eve, the unhappy mother of all our sin and woe, down to the blessed mother of Christ.
Paganism held from woman education, which prevented her from exerting a refining influence in her home, community, and country. Where Christ is not known, woman is the drudge, and is looked upon as being inferior to man.
Passing, as unworthy our notice, the question, whether her intellect is less than man's, we confidently assert that her love is more, and her sensibility finer, and it is her great heart of love that enables her to wield such an influence over the nation.
Where is the person that cannot see in Mary Somerville, just as lofty an intellect, and as great scientific attainments, as in man? She was as strong-minded as she was beautifully feminine. Mary Lyon, the pioneer of the highest culture of American womanhood, had an intellect far superior to most men; and she had such an exceptional memory that she daily memorized three times as much of the Latin grammar as did her classmates. "A sound mind in a sound body" was her birthright. Mary Lyon planted the seed of which Vassar, Wellesley, Smith, and sister colleges are the fruit. These are two of the many who have shown to the world that woman is not inferior to man even in intellect.
It is said truly, we admire the beautiful Rachel, or the heroic Deborah, or the virtuous Abigail, or the affectionate Esther, or the brave Judith; yet we do not find the hallowed ministration of the Marys and Marthas, and the Phoebes and Dorcases, until Christianity had developed the virtues of the heart, and kindled the loftier sentiments of the soul (cut off).
Woman is striving to bring man back to God; and if all women could be educated and Christianized, they would, ere long, bring back to this our beautiful earth, the beatitudes of Eden.
The influence of woman's education is felt from the infant's cradle to the presidential chair. Although woman seldom takes part in national affairs, yet much is done as her influence directs. And now, my friends, I appeal to you for an answer to this question, - Does not woman influence even the votes? Thus we see that woman silently and imperceptibly molds the character of the nation.
As sovereign, she has acted nobly. Queen Elizabeth was not a faultless woman; neither was she a popular favorite; but all admire her for the dignity and ability with which she filled one of the most difficult and responsible stations of the world. That England was prosperous under her control is unquestionable. Queen Elizabeth possessed talents that shed lustre around her throne. Queen Victoria's fame as a noble Christian ruler is world-wide.
Many of the best thoughts have been kneaded into the bread of literature by educated Christian women. Some of the women of the Bible used the pen of inspiration and left on record some of the most beautiful poetry ever written. Numberless Christians have found expression of their praise to God in the beautiful poem of Mary, where she exclaims: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior."
The works of Mrs. Browning, Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson, and Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, are strong attestations of what woman has done, and is capable of doing.
Some say that woman is more fickle than man. This we feel is an unjust statement. A true woman is as determined in her purpose as any man. She may not withstand opposition as the proud oak withstands the blast, but she meets opposition as the willow meets the storm, bending before it for a time, but only to spring up again with more determination than ever to carry out her noble purposes.
Let no woman feel that life to her means simply living; but let her rather feel that she has a special mission assigned to her, which none other of God's creatures can perform. It may be that she is placed in some rude little hut as mother and wife; if so, she can dignify her position by turning every hut into a palace, and bringing, not only her own household, but the whole community, into the sunlight of God's love. Such women are often unnoticed by the world in general, and do not receive the appreciation due them; yet we believe such may be called God's chosen agents. Again, let no woman feel that to adorn the parlor, as the fancy rugs and chairs do, is the highest calling; all blend to work out life's great duty; for there is no brighter, holier name on the catalogue of virtue than that of a true woman.
Let us, as women, feel grateful to God for the exalted position we now hold. For several thousand years before the Christian era, woman seemed to have had no part in religion, and man, spiritually, slept but when Christ came into the world, he chose woman to be one of the chief factors in the establishment of his kingdom.
There are many places of usefulness awaiting us. Good mothers, teachers, missionaries, and physicians are needed; and if some are thrown upon their own resources, and are forced into positions where they will be obliged to compete with men in order to make an honest living, let them take up their work with sweet resignation. But may they never surrender their essentially feminine and womanly qualities. Let no woman strive to be like a man; for a good original is far better than a bad imitation, and a noble woman is to be honored more than a man.
Man may reject Christ, but we cannot understand how woman can help loving and honoring him who is her best friend. We feel that woman is under two-fold obligation to consecrate her whole being to Christ. It is woman that is spreading the great work of temperance all over this and other countries. Many of the schools and colleges, north, south, east, and west, were established by just such women as we have in our midst to day, who are spending their lives to have us come up to a higher plane of living. Our people are to be educated and Christianized, and the heathen brought home to God. Woman must take the lead in this great work; for all history verifies the fact, that woman is the pivot upon which the world turns.
of Woman On National Character," Spelman Messenger 5.1
(November 1888): 1.
Courtesy of the Spelman College Archive