- Introduction Book I • Frenchwomen in War Time
- Chapter I • Madame Balli and the “Comfort Package”
- Chapter II • The Silent Army
- Chapter III • The Munition Makers
- Chapter IV • Mademoiselle Javal and the Éclopés
- Chapter V • The Woman’s Opportunity
- Chapter VI • Madame Pierre Goujon
- Chapter VII • Madame Pierre Goujon (Continued)
- Chapter VIII • Valentine Thompson
- Chapter IX • Madame Waddington
- Chapter X • The Countess D’Haussonville
- Chapter XI • The Marquise D’Andigné
- Chapter XII • Madame Camille Lyon
- Chapter XIII • Brief Accounts of Great Work
- Chapter XIV • One of the Motherless
- Chapter XV • The Marraines
- Chapter XVI • Problems for the Future Book II • Feminism in Peace and War
- Chapter I • The Threat of the Matriarchate
- Chapter II • The Triumph of Middle-Age
- Chapter III • The Real Victims of “Society”
- Chapter IV • One Solution of a Great Problem
- Chapter V • Four of the Highly Specialized
If this little book reads more like a memoir than a systematic study of conditions, my excuse is that I remained too long in France and was too much with the people whose work most interested me, to be capable, for a long while, at any rate, of writing a detached statistical account of their remarkable work.
In the first place, although it was my friend Owen Johnson who suggested this visit to France and personal investigation of the work of her women, I went with a certain enthusiasm, and the longer I remained the more enthusiastic I became. My idea in going was not to gratify my curiosity but to do what I could for the cause of France as well as for my own country by studying specifically the war-time work of its women and to make them better known to the women of America.
The average American woman who never has traveled in Europe, or only as a flitting tourist, is firm in the belief that all Frenchwomen are permanently occupied with fashions or intrigue. If it is impossible to eradicate this impression, at least the new impression I hope to create by a recital at first hand of what a number of Frenchwomen (who are merely carefully selected types) are doing for their country in its present ordeal, should be all the deeper.
American women were not in the least astonished at the daily accounts which reached them through the medium of press and magazine of the magnificent war services of the British women. That was no more than was to have been expected. Were they not, then, Anglo-Saxons, of our own blood, still closer to the fountain-source of a nation that has, with whatever reluctance, risen to every crisis in her fate with a grim, stolid, capable tenacity that means the inevitable defeat of any nation so incredibly stupid as to defy her?
If word had come over that the British women were quite indifferent to the war, were idle and frivolous and insensible to the clarion voice of their indomitable country’s needs, that, if you like, would have made a sensation. But knowing the race as they did—and it is the only race of which the genuine American does know anything—he, or she, accepted the leaping bill of Britain’s indebtedness to her brave and easily expert women without comment, although, no doubt, with a glow of vicarious pride.
But quite otherwise with the women of France. In the first place there was little interest. They were, after all, foreigners. Your honest dyed-in-the-wool American has about the same contemptuous tolerance for foreigners that foreigners have for him. They are not Americans (even after they immigrate and become naturalized), they do not speak the same language in the same way, and all accents, save perhaps a brogue, are offensive to an ear tuned to nasal rhythms and to the rich divergencies from the normal standards of their own tongue that distinguish different sections of this vast United States of America.
But the American mind is, after all, an open mind. Such generalities as, “The Frenchwomen are quite wonderful,” “are doing marvelous things for their country during this war,” that floated across the expensive cable now and again, made little or no impression on any but those who already knew their France and could be surprised at no resource or energy she might display; but Owen Johnson and several other men with whom he talked, including that ardent friend of France, Whitney Warren, felt positive that if some American woman writer with a public, and who was capable through long practice in story writing, of selecting and composing facts in conformance with the economic and dramatic laws of fiction, would go over and study the work of the Frenchwomen at first hand, and, discarding generalities, present specific instances of their work and their attitude, the result could not fail to give the intelligent American woman a different opinion of her French sister and enlist her sympathy.
I had been ill or I should have gone to England soon after the outbreak of the war and worked with my friends, for I have always looked upon England as my second home, and I have as many friends there as here. If it had not been for Mr. Johnson and Mr. Warren, no doubt I should have gone to England within the next two or three months. But their representations aroused my enthusiasm and I determined to go to France first, at all events.
My original intention was to remain in France for a month, gathering my material as quickly as possible, and then cross to England. It seemed to me that if I wrote a book that might be of some service to France I should do the same thing for a country to which I was not only far more deeply attached but far more deeply indebted.
I remained three months and a third in France—from May 9th, 1916, to August 19th—and I did not go to England for two reasons. I found that it was more of an ordeal to get to London from Paris than to return to New York and sail again; and I heard that Mrs. Ward was writing a book about the women of England. For me to write another would be what is somewhat gracelessly called a work of supererogation.
I remained in France so long because I was never so vitally interested in my life. I could not tear myself away, although I found it impossible to put my material into shape there. Not only was I on the go all day long, seeing this and that oeuvre, having personal interviews with heads of important organizations, taken about by the kind and interested friends my own interest made for me, but when night came I was too tired to do more than enter all the information I had accumulated during the day in a notebook, and then go to bed. I have seldom taken notes, but I was determined that whatever else my book might be it should at least be accurate, and I also collected all the literature (leaflets, pamphlets, etc.) of the various oeuvres (as all these war relief organizations are called) and packed them into carefully superscribed large brown envelopes with a meticulousness that is, alas, quite foreign to my native disposition.
When, by the way, I opened my trunk to pack it and saw those dozen or more large square brown envelopes I was appalled. They looked so important, so sinister, they seemed to mutter of State secrets, war maps, spy data. I knew that trunks were often searched at Bordeaux, and I knew that if mine were those envelopes never would leave France. I should be fortunate to sail away myself.
But I must have my notes. To remember all that I had from day to day gathered was an impossibility. I have too good a memory not to distrust it when it comes to a mass of rapidly accumulated information; combined with imagination and enthusiasm it is sure to play tricks.
But I had an inspiration. The Ministry of War had been exceedingly kind to me. Convinced that I was a “Friend of France,” they had permitted me to go three times into the War Zone, the last time sending me in a military automobile and providing an escort. I had been over to the War Office very often and had made friends of several of the politest men on earth.
I went out and bought the largest envelope to be found in Paris. Into this I packed all those other big brown envelopes and drove over to the Ministère de la Guerre. I explained my predicament. Would they seal it with the formidable seal of the War Office and write Propagande across it? Of course if they wished I would leave my garnerings for a systematic search. They merely laughed at this unusual evidence on my part of humble patience and submission. The French are the acutest people in the world. By this time these preternaturally keen men in the War Office knew me better than I knew myself. If I had, however unconsciously and in my deepest recesses, harbored a treacherous impulse toward the country I so professed to admire and to desire to serve, or if my ego had been capable of sudden tricks and perversions, they would long since have had these lamentable deformities, my spiritual hare-lip, ticketed and docketed with the rest of my dossier.
As it was they complied with my request at once, gave me their blessing, and escorted me to the head of the stair—no elevators in this great Ministère de la Guerre and the Service de Santé is at the top of the building. I went away quite happy, more devoted to their cause than ever, and easy in my mind about Bordeaux—where, by the way, my trunks were not opened.
Therefore, that remarkable experience in France is altogether still so vivid to me that to write about it reportorially, with the personal equation left out, would be quite as impossible as it is for me to refrain from execrating the Germans. When I add that during that visit I grew to love the French people (whom, in spite of many visits to France, I merely had admired coolly and impersonally) as much as I abominate the enemies of the human race, I feel that the last word has been said, and that my apology for writing what may read like a memoir, a chronicle of personal reminiscences, will be understood and forgiven.
Book I • Frenchwomen in War Time
One of the most striking results of the Great War has been the quickening in thousands of European women of qualities so long dormant that they practically were unsuspected. As I shall tell in a more general article, the Frenchwomen of the middle and lower bourgeoisie and of the farms stepped automatically into the shoes of the men called to the colors in August, 1914, and it was, in their case, merely the wearing of two pairs of shoes instead of one, and both of equal fit. The women of those clearly defined classes are their husbands’ partners and co-workers, and although physically they may find it more wearing to do the work of two than of one, it entails no particular strain on their mental faculties or change in their habits of life. Moreover, France since the dawn of her history has been a military nation, and generation after generation her women have been called upon to play their important rôle in war, although never on so vast a scale as now.
Contrary to the prevailing estimate of the French—an estimate formed mainly from sensational novels and plays, or during brief visits to the shops and boulevards of Paris—the French are a stolid, stoical, practical race, abnormally acute, without illusions, and whose famous ebullience is all in the top stratum. There is even a certain melancholy at the root of their temperament, for, gay and pleasure loving as they are on the surface, they are a very ancient and a very wise people. Impatient and impulsive, they are capable of a patience and tenacity, a deep deliberation and caution, which, combined with an unparalleled mental alertness, brilliancy without recklessness, bravery without bravado, spiritual exaltation without sentimentality (which is merely perverted animalism), a curious sensitiveness of mind and body due to over-breeding, and a white flame of patriotism as steady and dazzling as an arc-light, has given them a glorious history, and makes them, by universal consent, preëminent among the warring nations to-day.
They are intensely conservative and their mental suppleness is quite as remarkable. Economy is one of the motive powers of their existence, the solid pillars upon which their wealth and power are built; and yet Paris has been not only the home and the patron of the arts for centuries, but the arbiter of fashion for women, a byword for extravagance, and a forcing-house for a thousand varieties of pleasure. No race is so paradoxical, but then France is the genius among nations. Antiquity, and many invasions of her soil have given her an inviolable solidity, and the temperamental gaiety and keen intelligence which pervades all classes have kept her eternally young. She is as far from decadence as the crudest community in the United States of America.
To the student of French history and character nothing the French have done in this war is surprising; nevertheless it seemed to me that I had a fresh revelation every day during my sojourn in France in the summer of 1916. Every woman of every class (with a few notable exceptions seen for the most part in the Ritz Hotel) was working at something or other: either in self-support, to relieve distress, or to supplement the efforts and expenditures of the Government (two billion francs a month); and it seemed that I never should see the last of those relief organizations of infinite variety known as “oeuvres.”
Some of this work is positively creative, much is original, and all is practical and indispensable. As the most interesting of it centers in and radiates from certain personalities whom I had the good fortune to meet and to know as well as their days and mine would permit, it has seemed to me that the surest way of vivifying any account of the work itself is to make its pivot the central figure of the story. So I will begin with Madame Balli.
To be strictly accurate, Madame Balli was born in Smyrna, of Greek blood; but Paris can show no purer type of Parisian, and she has never willingly passed a day out of France. During her childhood her brother (who must have been many years older than herself) was sent to Paris as Minister from Greece, filling the post for thirty years; and his mother followed with her family. Madame Balli not only was brought up in France, but has spent only five hours of her life in Greece; after her marriage she expressed a wish to see the land of her ancestors, and her husband—who was an Anglo-Greek—amiably took her to a hotel while the steamer on which they were journeying to Constantinople was detained in the harbor of Athens.
Up to the outbreak of the war she was a woman of the world, a woman of fashion to her finger-tips, a reigning beauty always dressed with a costly and exquisite simplicity. Some idea of the personal loveliness which, united to her intelligence and charm, made her one of the conspicuous figures of the capital, may be inferred from the fact that her British husband, an art connoisseur and notable collector, was currently reported deliberately to have picked out the most beautiful girl in Europe to adorn his various mansions.
Madame Balli has black eyes and hair, a white skin, a classic profile, and a smile of singular sweetness and charm. Until the war came she was far too absorbed in the delights of the world—the Paris world, which has more votaries than all the capitals of all the world—the changing fashions and her social popularity, to have heard so much as a murmur of the serious tides of her nature. Although no one disputed her intelligence—a social asset in France, odd as that may appear to Americans—she was generally put down as a mere femme du monde, self-indulgent, pleasure-loving, dependent—what our more strident feminists call parasitic. It is doubtful if she belonged to charitable organizations, although, generous by nature, it is safe to say that she gave freely.
In that terrible September week of 1914 when the Germans were driving like a hurricane on Paris and its inhabitants were fleeing in droves to the South, Madame Balli’s husband was in England; her sister-in-law, an infirmière major (nurse major) of the First Division of the Red Cross, had been ordered to the front the day war broke out; a brother-in-law had his hands full; and Madame Balli was practically alone in Paris. Terrified of the struggling hordes about the railway stations even more than of the advancing Germans, deprived of her motor cars, which had been commandeered by the Government, she did not know which way to turn or even how to get into communication with her one possible protector.
But her brother-in-law suddenly bethought himself of this too lovely creature who would be exposed to the final horrors of recrudescent barbarism if the Germans entered Paris; he determined to put public demands aside for the moment and take her to Dinard, whence she could, if necessary, cross to England.
He called her on the telephone and told her to be ready at a certain hour that afternoon, and with as little luggage as possible, as they must travel by automobile. “And mark you,” he added, “no dogs!” Madame Balli had seven little Pekinese to which she was devoted (her only child was at school in England). She protested bitterly at leaving her pets behind, but her brother was inexorable, and when he called for her it was with the understanding that all seven were yelping in the rear, at the mercy of the concièrge.
There were seven passengers in the automobile, however, of which the anxious driver, feeling his way through the crowded streets and apprehensive that his car might be impressed at any moment, had not a suspicion. They were in hat boxes, hastily perforated portmanteaux, up the coat sleeves of Madame Balli and her maid, and they did not begin to yelp until so far on the road to the north that it was not worth while to throw them out.
At Dinard, where wounded soldiers were brought in on every train, Madame Balli was turned over to friends, and in a day or two, being bored and lonely, she concluded to go with these friends to the hospitals and take cigarettes and smiles into the barren wards. From that day until I left Paris on the seventeenth of August, 1916, Madame Balli had labored unceasingly; she is known to the Government as one of its most valuable and resourceful aids; and she works until two in the morning, during the quieter hours, with her correspondence and books (the police descend at frequent and irregular intervals to examine the books of all oeuvres, and one mistake means being haled to court), and she had not up to that time taken a day’s rest. I have seen her so tired she could hardly go on, and she said once quite pathetically, “I am not even well-groomed any more.” I frequently straightened her dress in the back, for her maids work almost as hard as she does. When her husband died, a year after the war broke out, and she found herself no longer a rich woman, her maids offered to stay with her on reduced wages and work for her oeuvres, being so deeply attached to her that they would have remained for no wages at all if she had really been poor. I used to beg her to go to Vichy for a fortnight, but she would not hear of it. Certain things depended upon her alone, and she must remain at her post unless she broke down utterly.[A]She is still hard at work, June, 1917.
One of her friends said to me: “Hélène must really be a tremendously strong woman. Before the war we all thought her a semi-invalid who pulled herself together at night for the opera, or dinners, or balls. But we didn’t know her then, and sometimes we feel as if we knew her still less now.”
It was Madame Balli who invented the “comfort package” which other organizations have since developed into the “comfort bag,” and founded the oeuvre known as “Réconfort du Soldat.” Her committee consists of Mrs. Frederick H. Allen of New York, who has a home in Paris and is identified with many war charities; Mrs. Edward Tuck, who has lived in and given munificently to France for thirty years; Madame Paul Dupuy, who was Helen Brown of New York and has her own oeuvre for supplying war-surgeons with rubber, oil-cloth, invalid chairs, etc.; the Marquise de Noialles, President of a large oeuvre somewhat similar to Madame Dupuy’s; the Comtesse de Fels, Madame Brun, and Mr. Holman-Black, an American who has lived the greater part of his life in France. Mrs. Willard sends her supplies from New York by every steamer.
Madame Balli also has a long list of contributors to this and her other oeuvres, who sometimes pay their promised dues and sometimes do not, so that she is obliged to call on her committee (who have a hundred other demands) or pay the deficit out of her own pocket. A certain number of American contributors send her things regularly through Mrs. Allen or Mrs. Willard, and occasionally some generous outsider gives her a donation. I was told that the Greek Colony in Paris had been most generous; and while I was there she published in one of the newspapers an appeal for a hundred pillows for a hospital in which she was interested, and received in the course of the next three days over four hundred.
I went with her one day to one of the éclopé stations and to the Dépôt des Isolés, outside of Paris, to help her distribute comfort packages—which, by the way, covered the top of the automobile and were piled so high inside that we disposed ourselves with some difficulty. These packages, all neatly tied, and of varying sizes, were in the nature of surprise bags of an extremely practical order. Tobacco, pipes, cigarettes, chocolate, toothbrushes, soap, pocket-knives, combs, safety-pins, handkerchiefs, needles-and-thread, buttons, pocket mirrors, post-cards, pencils, are a few of the articles I recall. The members of the Committee meet at her house twice a week to do up the bundles, and her servants, also, do a great deal of the practical work.
It was a long drive through Paris and to the dépôts beyond. A year before we should have been held up at the point of the bayonet every few yards, but in 1916 we rolled on unhindered. Paris is no longer in the War Zone, although as we passed the fortifications we saw men standing beside the upward pointing guns, and I was told that this vigilance does not relax day or night.
Later, I shall have much to say about the éclopés, but it is enough to explain here that “éclopé,” in the new adaptation of the word, stands for a man who is not wounded, or ill enough for a military hospital, but for whom a brief rest in comfortable quarters is imperative. The stations provided for them, principally through the instrumentality of another remarkable Frenchwoman, Mlle. Javal, now number about one hundred and thirty, and are either behind the lines or in the neighborhood of Paris or other large cities. The one we visited, Le Bourget, is among the largest and most important, and the Commandant, M. de L’Horme, is as interested as a father in his children. The yard when we arrived was full of soldiers, some about to march out and entrain for the front, others still loafing, and M. de L’Horme seemed to know each by name.
The comfort packages are always given to the men returning to their regiments on that particular day. They are piled high on a long table at one side of the barrack yard, and behind it on the day of my visit stood Madame Balli, Mrs. Allen, Mr. Holman-Black and myself, and we handed out packages with a “Bonne chance” as the men filed by. Some were sullen and unresponsive, but many more looked as pleased as children and no doubt were as excited over their “grabs,” which they were not to open until in the train. They would face death on the morrow, but for the moment at least they were personal and titillated.
Close by was a small munition factory, and a large loft had been turned into a rest-room for such of the éclopés as it was thought advisable to put to bed for a few days under medical supervision. To each of these we gave several of the black cigarettes dear to the tobacco-proof heart of the Frenchman, a piece of soap, three picture post-cards, and chocolate. I think they were as glad of the visits as of the presents, for most of them were too far from home to receive any personal attention from family or friends. The beds looked comfortable and all the windows were open.
From there we went to the Dépôt des Isolés, an immense enclosure where men from shattered regiments are sent for a day or two until they can be returned to the front to fill gaps in other regiments. Nowhere, not even in the War Zone, did war show to me a grimmer face than here. As these men are in good health and tarry barely forty-eight hours, little is done for their comfort. Soldiers in good condition are not encouraged to expect comforts in war time, and no doubt the discipline is good for them—although, heaven knows, the French as a race know little about comfort at any time.
There were cots in some of the barracks, but there were also large spaces covered with straw, and here men had flung themselves down as they entered, without unstrapping the heavy loads they carried on their backs. They were sleeping soundly. Every bed was occupied by a sprawling figure in his stained, faded, muddy uniform. I saw one superb and turbaned Algerian sitting upright in an attitude of extreme dignity, and as oblivious to war and angels of mercy as a dead man in the trenches.
Two English girls, the Miss Gracies, had opened a cantine at this dépôt. Women have these cantines in all the éclopé and isolé stations where permission of the War Office can be obtained, and not only give freely of hot coffee and cocoa, bread, cakes and lemonade, to those weary men as they come in, but also have made their little sheds look gaily hospitable with flags and pictures. The Miss Gracies had even induced some one to build an open air theater in the great barrack yard where the men could amuse themselves and one another if they felt inclined. A more practical gift by Mrs. Allen was a bath house in which were six showers and soap and towels.
It was a dirty yard we stood in this time, handing out gifts, and when I saw Mrs. Allen buying a whole wheelbarrow-load of golden-looking doughnuts, brought by a woman of the village close by, I wondered with some apprehension if she were meaning to reward us for our excessive virtue. But they were an impromptu treat for the soldiers standing in the yard—some already lined up to march—and the way they disappeared down those brown throats made me feel blasée and over-civilized.
I did not hand out during this little fête, my place being taken by Mrs. Thayer of Boston, so I was better able to appreciate the picture. All the women were pretty, and I wondered if Madame Balli had chosen them as much for their esthetic appeal to the exacting French mind as for their willingness to help. It was a strange sight, that line of charming women with kind bright eyes, and, although simply dressed, stamped with the world they moved in, while standing and lying about were the tired and dirty poilus—even those that stood were slouching as if resting their backs while they could—with their uniforms of horizon blue faded to an ugly gray, streaked and patched. They had not seen a decent woman for months, possibly not a woman at all, and it was no wonder they followed every movement of these smiling benefactresses with wondering, adoring, or cynical eyes.
But, I repeat, to me it was an ill-favored scene, and the fact that it was a warm and peaceful day, with a radiant blue sky above, merely added to the irony. Although later I visited the War Zone three times and saw towns crowded with soldiers off duty, or as empty as old gray shells, nothing induced in me the same vicious stab of hatred for war as this scene. There is only one thing more abominable than war and that is the pacificist doctrine of non-resistance when duty and honor call. Every country, no doubt, has its putrescent spots caused by premature senility, but no country so far has shown itself as wholly crumbling in an age where the world is still young.
A few days later I went with Madame Balli and Mr. Holman-Black to the military hospital, Chaptal, devoted to the men whose faces had been mutilated. The first room was an immense apartment with an open space beyond the beds filled to-day with men who crowded about Madame Balli, as much to get that personal word and smile from her, which the French soldier so pathetically places above all gifts, as to have the first choice of a pipe or knife.
After I had distributed the usual little presents of cigarettes, chocolate, soap, and post-cards among the few still in bed, I sat on the outside of Madame Balli’s mob and talked to one of the infirmières. She was a Frenchwoman married to an Irishman who was serving in the British navy, and her sons were in the trenches. She made a remark to me that I was destined to hear very often:
“Oh, yes, we work hard, and we are only too glad to do what we can for France; but, my God! what would become of us if we remained idle and let our minds dwell upon our men at the Front? We should go mad. As it is, we are so tired at night that we sleep, and the moment we awaken we are on duty again. I can assure you the harder we have to work the more grateful we are.”
She looked very young and pretty in her infirmière uniform of white linen with a veil of the same stiff material and the red cross on her breast, and it was odd to hear that sons of hers were in the trenches.
After that nearly all the men in the different wards we visited were in bed, and each room was worse than the last, until it was almost a relief to come to the one where the men had just been operated on and were so bandaged that any features they may have had left were indistinguishable.
For the uncovered faces were horrible. I was ill all night, not only from the memory of the sickening sights with which I had remained several hours in a certain intimacy—for I went to assist Madame Balli and took the little gifts to every bedside—but from rage against the devilish powers that unloosed this horror upon the world. One of the grim ironies of this war is that the Hohenzollerns and the junkers are so constituted mentally that they never will be haunted with awful visions like those that visited the more plastic conscience of Charles IX after St. Bartholomew; but at least it will be some compensation to picture them rending the air with lamentations over their own downfall and hurling curses at their childish folly.
It is the bursting of shrapnel that causes the face mutilations, and although the first room we visited at Chaptal was a witness to the marvelous restorative work the surgeons are able to accomplish—sometimes—many weeks and even months must elapse while the face is not only red and swollen, but twisted, the mouth almost parallel with the nose—and often there is no nose—a whole cheek missing, an eye gone, or both; sometimes the whole mouth and chin have been blown away; and I saw one face that had nothing on its flat surface but a pipe inserted where the nose had been. Another was so terrible that I did not dare to take a second look, and I have only a vague and mercifully fading impression of a hideousness never before seen in this world.
On the other hand I saw a man propped up in bed, with one entire side of his face bandaged, his mouth twisted almost into his right ear, and a mere remnant of nose, reading a newspaper with his remaining eye and apparently quite happy.
The infirmière told me that sometimes the poor fellows would cry—they are almost all very young—and lament that no girl would have them now; but she always consoled them by the assurance that men would be so scarce after the war that girls would take anything they could get.
In one of the wards a young soldier was sitting on the edge of his cot, receiving his family, two women of middle age and a girl of about seventeen. His face was bandaged down to the bridge of his nose, but the lower part was uninjured. He may or may not have been permanently blind. The two older women—his mother and aunt, no doubt—looked stolid, as women of that class always do, but the girl sat staring straight before her with an expression of bitter resentment I shall never forget. She looked as if she were giving up every youthful illusion, and realized that Life is the enemy of man, and more particularly of woman. Possibly her own lover was in the trenches. Or perhaps this mutilated boy beside her was the first lover of her youth. One feels far too impersonal for curiosity in these hospitals and it did not occur to me to ask.
Madame Balli had also brought several boxes of delicacies for the private kitchen of the infirmières, where fine dishes may be concocted for appetites still too weak to be tempted by ordinary hospital fare: soup extract, jellies, compotes, cocoa, preserves, etc. Mr. Holman-Black came staggering after us with one of these boxes, I remember, down the long corridor that led to the private quarters of the nurses. One walks miles in these hospitals.
A number of American men in Paris are working untiringly for Paris, notably those in our War Relief Clearing House—H.O. Beatty, Randolph Mordecai, James R. Barbour, M.P. Peixotto, Ralph Preston, Whitney Warren, Hugh R. Griffen, James Hazen Hyde, Walter Abbott, Charles R. Scott, J.J. Hoff, Rev. Dr. S.N. Watson, George Munroe, Charles Carroll, J. Ridgeley Carter, H. Herman Harges—but I never received from any the same sense of consecration, of absolute selflessness as I did from Mr. Holman-Black. He and his brother have a beautiful little hôtel, and for many years before the war were among the most brilliant contributors to the musical life of the great capital; but there has been no entertaining in those charming rooms since August, 1914. Mr. Holman-Black is parrain (godfather) to three hundred and twenty soldiers at the Front, not only providing them with winter and summer underclothing, bedding, sleeping-suits, socks, and all the lighter articles they have the privilege of asking for, but also writing from fifteen to twenty letters to his filleuls daily. He, too, has not taken a day’s vacation since the outbreak of the war, nor read a book. He wears the uniform of a Red Cross officer, and is associated with several of Madame Balli’s oeuvres.
A few days later Madame Balli took me to another hospital—Hôpital Militaire Villemin—where she gives a concert once a week. Practically all the men that gathered in the large room to hear the music, or crowded before the windows, were well and would leave shortly for the front, but a few were brought in on stretchers and lay just below the platform. This hospital seemed less dreary to me than most of those I had visited, and the yard was full of fine trees. It was also an extremely cheerful afternoon, for not only was the sun shining, but the four artists Madame Balli had brought gave of their best and their efforts to amuse were greeted with shouts of laughter.
Lyse Berty—the most distinguished vaudeville artist in France and who is certainly funnier than any woman on earth—had got herself up in horizon blue, and was the hit of the afternoon. The men forgot war and the horrors of war and surrendered to her art and her selections with an abandon which betrayed their superior intelligence, for she is a very plain woman. Miss O’Brien, an Irish girl who has spent her life in Paris and looks like the pictures in some old Book of Beauty—immense blue eyes, tiny regular features, small oval face, chestnut hair, pink-and-white skin, and a tall “willowy” figure—was second in their critical esteem, because she did not relieve their monotonous life with fun, but sang, instead, sweet or stirring songs in a really beautiful voice. The other two, young entertainers of the vaudeville stage, were not so accomplished but were applauded politely, and as they possessed a liberal share of the grace and charm of the Frenchwoman and were exquisitely dressed, no doubt men still recall them on dreary nights in trenches.
I sat on the platform and watched at close range the faces of these soldiers of France. They were all from the people, of course, but there was not a face that was not alive with quick intelligence, and it struck me anew—as it always did when I had an opportunity to see a large number of Frenchmen together at close range—how little one face resembled the other. The French are a race of individuals. There is no type. It occurred to me that if during my lifetime the reins of all the Governments, my own included, were seized by the people, I should move over and trust my destinies to the proletariat of France. Their lively minds and quick sympathies would make their rule tolerable at least. As I have said before, the race has genius.
After we had distributed the usual gifts, I concluded to drive home in the car of the youngest of the vaudeville artists, as taxis in that region were nonexistent, and Madame Balli and Mr. Holman-Black would be detained for another hour. Mademoiselle Berty was with us, and in the midst of the rapid conversation—which never slackened!—she made some allusion to the son of this little artist, and I exclaimed involuntarily:
“You married? I never should have imagined it.”
Why on earth I ever made such a banal remark to a French vaudevilliste, whose clothes, jewels, and automobile represented an income as incompatible with fixed salaries as with war time, I cannot imagine. Automatic Americanism, no doubt.
Mlle. Berty lost no time correcting me. “Oh, Hortense is not married,” she merely remarked. “But she has a splendid son—twelve years old.”
Being the only embarrassed member of the party, I hastened to assure the girl that I had thought she was about eighteen and was astonished to hear that she had a child of any age. But twelve! She turned to me with a gentle and deprecatory smile.
“I loved very young,” she explained.
Chaptal and Villemin are only two of Madame Balli’s hospitals. I believe she visits others, carrying gifts to both the men and the kitchens, but the only other of her works that I came into personal contact with was an oeuvre she had organized to teach convalescent soldiers, mutilated or otherwise, how to make bead necklaces. These are really beautiful and are another of her own inventions.
Up in the front bedroom of her charming home in the Avenue Henri Martin is a table covered with boxes filled with glass beads of every color. Here Madame Balli, with a group of friends, sits during all her spare hours and begins the necklaces which the soldiers come for and take back to the hospital to finish. I sat in the background and watched the men come in—many of them with the Croix de Guerre, the Croix de la Legion d’Honneur, or the Medaille Militairepinned on their faded jackets. I listened to brief definite instructions of Madame Balli, who may have the sweetest smile in the world, but who knows what she wants people to do and invariably makes them do it. I saw no evidence of stupidity or slackness in these young soldiers; they might have been doing bead-work all their lives, they combined the different colors and sizes so deftly and with such true artistic feeling.
Madame Balli has sold hundreds of these necklaces. She has a case at the Ritz Hotel, and she has constant orders from friends and their friends, and even from dressmakers; for these trinkets are as nearly works of art as anything so light may be. The men receive a certain percentage of the profits and will have an ample purse when they leave the hospital. Another portion goes to buy delicacies for their less fortunate comrades—and this idea appeals to them immensely—the rest goes to buy more beads at the glittering shops on the Rue du Rivoli. The necklaces bring from five to eight or ten dollars. The soldiers in many of the hospitals are doing flat beadwork, which is ingenious and pretty; but nothing compares with these necklaces of Madame Balli, and some of the best dressed American women in Paris are wearing them.
On the twentieth of July (1916) Le Figaro devoted an article to Madame Balli’s Réconfort du Soldat, and stated that it was distributing about six hundred packages a week to soldiers in hospitals and éclopé dépôts, and that during the month of January alone nine thousand six hundred packages were distributed both behind the lines and among the soldiers at the Front. This may go on for years or it may come to an abrupt end; but, like all the Frenchwomen to whom I talked, and who when they plunged into work expected a short war, she is determined to do her part as long as the soldiers do theirs, even if the war marches with the term of her natural life. She not only has given a great amount of practical help, but has done her share in keeping up the morale of the men, who, buoyant by nature as they are, and passionately devoted to their country, must have many discouraged moments in their hospitals and dépôts.
Once or twice when swamped with work—she is also a marraine (godmother) and writes regularly to her filleuls—Madame Balli has sent the weekly gifts by friends; but the protest was so decided, the men declaring that her personal sympathy meant more to them than cigarettes and soap, that she was forced to adjust her affairs in such a manner that no visit to a hospital at least should be missed.
It is doubtful if any of these men who survive and live to tell tales of the Great War in their old age will ever omit to recall the gracious presence and lovely face of Madame Balli, who came so often to make them forget the sad monotony of their lives, even the pain in their mutilated limbs, the agony behind their disfigured faces, during those long months they spent in the hospitals of Paris. And although her beauty has always been a pleasure to the eye, perhaps it is now for the first time paying its great debt to Nature.
Madame Paquin, the famous French dressmaker, told me casually an incident that epitomizes the mental inheritance of the women of a military nation once more plunged abruptly into war.
Her home is in Neuilly, one of the beautiful suburbs of Paris, and for years when awake early in the morning it had been her habit to listen for the heavy creaking of the great wagons that passed her house on their way from the gardens and orchards of the open country to the markets of Paris. Sometimes she would arise and look at them, those immense heavy trucks loaded high above their walls with the luscious produce of the fertile soil of France. On the seats were always three or four sturdy men: the farmer, and the sons who would help him unload at the “Halles.”
All these men, of course, were reservists. Mobilization took place on Sunday. On Monday morning Madame Paquin, like many others in that anxious city, was tossing restlessly on her bed when she heard the familiar creaking of the market wagons which for so many years had done their share in feeding the hungry and fastidious people of Paris. Knowing that every able-bodied man had disappeared from his usual haunts within a few hours after the Mobilization Order was posted, she sprang out of bed and looked through her blinds.
There in the dull gray mist of the early morning she saw the familiar procession. There were the big trucks drawn by the heavily built cart horses and piled high with the abundant but precisely picked and packed produce of the market gardens. Paris was to be fed as usual. People must eat, war or no war. In spite of the summons which had excited the brains and depressed the hearts of a continent those trucks were playing their part in human destiny, not even claiming the right to be five minutes late. The only difference was that the seats on this gloomy August morning of 1914 were occupied by large stolid peasant women, the wives and sisters and sweethearts of the men called to the colors. They had mobilized themselves as automatically as the Government had ordered out its army when the German war god deflowered our lady of peace.
These women may have carried heavy hearts under their bright coifs and cotton blouses, but their weather-beaten faces betrayed nothing but the stoical determination to get their supplies to the Halles at the usual hour. And they have gone by every morning since. Coifs and blouses have turned black, but the hard brown faces betray nothing, and they are never late.
Up in the Champagne district, although many of the vineyards were in valleys between the two contending armies, the women undertook to care for the vines when the time came, risking their lives rather than sacrifice the next year’s vintage. Captain Sweeney of the Foreign Legion told me that when the French soldiers were not firing they amused themselves watching these women pruning and trimming as fatalistically as if guns were not thundering east and west of them, shells singing overhead. For the most part they were safe enough, and nerves had apparently been left out of them; but once in a while the Germans would amuse themselves raking the valley with the guns. Then the women would simply throw themselves flat and remain motionless—sometimes for hours—until “Les Boches” concluded to waste no more ammunition.
In Rheims the women have never closed their shops. They have covered their windows with sandbags, and by the light of lamp or candle do a thriving business while the big guns thunder. The soldiers, both British and French, like their trinkets and post-cards, to say nothing of more practical objects, and, admiring their inveterate pluck, not only patronize them liberally but sit in their coverts and gossip or flirt with the pretty girls for whom shells bursting in the street are too old a story for terror.
Many of the women of the industrial classes who have been accustomed all their hard dry lives to live on the daily wage of father or husband have refused to work since the war began, preferring to scrape along on the Government allocation (allowance) of one-franc-twenty-five a day for the wives of soldiers, plus fifty centimes for each child (seventy-five in Paris). These notable exceptions will be dealt with later. France, like all nations, contains every variety of human nature, and, with its absence of illusions and its habit of looking facts almost cynically in the face, would be the last to claim perfection or even to conceal its infirmities. But the right side of its shield is very bright indeed, and the hands of many millions of women, delicate and toil-hardened, have labored to make it shine once more in history.
The Mayoress of a small town near Paris told me of three instances that came within her personal observation, and expressed no surprise at one or the other. She probably would not have thought them worth mentioning if she had not been asked expressly to meet me and give me certain information. One was of a woman whose husband had been a wage-earner, and, with six or eight children, had been able to save nothing. The allocation was not declared at once and this woman lost no time bewailing her fate or looking about for charitable groups of ladies to feed her with soup. She simply continued to run her husband’s estaminet (wine-shop), and, as the patronage was necessarily diminished, was one of the first to apply when munition factories invited women to fill the vacant places of men. She chose to work at night that she might keep the estaminet open by day for the men too old to fight and for the rapidly increasing number of “réformés”: those who had lost a leg or arm or were otherwise incapacited for service.
A sister, who lived in Paris, immediately applied for one of the thousand vacant posts in bakeries, cut bread and buttered it and made toast for a tea-room in the afternoon, and found another job to sweep out stores. This woman had a son still under age but in training at the Front. He had been in the habit of paying her periodical visits, until this woman, already toiling beyond her strength to support her other children, sat down one day and wrote to the boy’s commanding officer asking him to permit no more leaves of absence, as the ordeal was too much for both of them.
The third story was of a woman whom the Mayoress had often entertained in her homes, both official and private. When this woman, who had lived a life of such ease as the mother of eleven children may, was forced to take over the conduct of her husband’s business (he was killed immediately) she discovered that he had been living on his capital, and when his estate was settled her only inheritance was a small wine-shop in Paris. She packed her trunks, spent what little money she had left on twelve railway tickets for the capital, and settled her brood in the small quarters behind the estaminet—fortunately the lessee, who was unmarried, had also been swept off to the Front.
The next morning she reopened the doors and stood smiling behind the counter. The place was well stocked. It was a long while before she was obliged to spend any of her intake on aught but food and lights. So charming a hostess did she prove that her little shop was never empty and quickly became famous. She had been assured of a decent living long since.
When I arrived in Paris in May (1916) a little girl had just been decorated by the President of the Republic. Her father, the village baker, had made one of those lightning changes from citizen to soldier and her mother had died a few weeks before. She was an only child. The bakery had supplied not only the village but the neighboring inn, which had been a favorite lunching place for automobilists. Traveling for pleasure stopped abruptly, but as the road that passed the inn was one of the direct routes to the Front, it still had many hasty calls upon its hospitality.
Now, bread-making in France is a science, the work of the expert, not of the casual housewife. The accomplished cook of the inn knew no more about mixing and baking bread than he did of washing clothes; and there was but this one bakery, hitherto sufficient, for the baker and his wife had been strong and industrious. The inn was in despair. The village was in despair. A Frenchman will go without meat, but life without bread is unthinkable.
No one thought of the child.
It is possible that in her double grief she did not think of herself—for twenty-four hours. But the second day after mobilization her shop window was piled high with loaves as usual. The inn was supplied. The village was supplied. This little girl worked steadily and unaided at her task, until her father, a year later, returned minus a leg to give her assistance of a sort.
The business of the bakery was nearly doubled during that time. Automobiles containing officers, huge camions with soldiers packed like coffee-beans, foot-weary marching regiments, with no time to stop for a meal, halted a moment and bought the stock on hand. But with only a few hours’ sleep the girl toiled on valiantly and no applicant for bread was turned empty-handed from the now famous bakery.
How she kept up her childish strength and courage without a moment’s change in her routine and on insufficient sleep can only be explained by the twin facts that she came of hardy peasant stock, and, like all French children, no matter how individual, was too thoroughly imbued with the discipline of “The Family” to shirk for a moment the particular task that war had brought her. This iron discipline of The Family, one of the most salient characteristics of the French, is largely responsible for the matter-of-fact way in which every soldier of France, reservist or regular, and whatever his political convictions, has risen to this ordeal. And in him as been inculcated from birth patience and perseverance as well as loyalty to his beloved flag.
The wives of hotel and shop keepers as well as the women of the farms have by far the best of it in time of war. The former are always their husband’s partners, controlling the money, consulted at ever step. When the tocsin rings and the men disappear they simply go on. Their task may be doubled and they may be forced to employ girls instead of men, but there is no mental readjusting.
The women of the farms have always worked as hard as the men. Their doubled tasks involve a greater drain on their physical energies than the petite bourgeoise suffers, especially in those districts devastated by the first German invasion—the valley of the Marne. But they are very hardy, and they too hang on, for stoicism is the fundamental characteristic of the French.
This stoicism as well as the unrivaled mental suppleness was illustrated early in the war by the highly typical case of a laundress whose business was in one of the best districts of Paris.
In France no washing is done in the house. This, no doubt, is one of the reasons why one’s laundry bills, even on a brief visit, are among the major items, for les blanchisseuses are a power in the land. When I was leaving Paris the directrice of the École Feminine in Passy, which had been my home for three months, suggested delicately that I leave a tip for the laundress, for, said this practical person, herself a sufferer from many forms of imposition, “she has been extremely complaisante in coming every week for Madame’s wash.” I remarked that the laundress might reasonably feel some gratitude to me for adding weekly to her curtailed income; but my smiling directrice shook her head. The favor, it appeared, was all on the other side. So, although I had tipped the many girls of my unique boarding-place with pleasure I parted with the sum designated for my patronizing laundress with no grace whatever.
But to return to the heroine of the story told me by Mrs. Armstrong Whitney, one of the many American women living in Paris who are working for France.
This laundress had a very large business, in partnership with her husband. Nobody was expected to bring the family washing to her door, nor even to send a servant. The linen was called for and delivered, for this prosperous firm owned several large trucks and eight or ten strong horses.
War was declared. This woman’s husband and all male employees were mobilized. Her horses were commandeered. So were her trucks. Many of her wealthier patrons were already in the country and remained there, both for economy’s sake and to encourage and help the poor of their villages and farms. The less fortunate made shift to do their washing at home. Nevertheless there were patrons who still needed her services at least once a fortnight.
This good woman may have had her moments of despair. If so, the world never knew it. She began at once to adjust herself to the new conditions and examine her resources. She importuned the Government until, to be rid of her, they returned two of her horses. She rented a cart and employed girls suddenly thrown out of work, to take the place of the vanished men. The business limped on but it never ceased for a moment; and as the months passed it assumed a firmer gait. People returned from the country, finding that they could be more useful in Paris as members of one or other of a thousand oeuvres; and they were of the class that must have clean linen if the skies fall. Also, many Americans who had fled ignominiously to England returned and plunged into work. And Americans, with their characteristic extravagance in lingerie, are held in high esteem by les blanchisseuses.
Further assaults upon the amiable Government resulted in the return of more horses and one or two trucks. To-day, while the business by no means swaggers, this woman, thanks to her indomitable courage and energy, combined with the economical habit and the financial genius of the French, has ridden safely over the rocks into as snug a little harbor as may be found in any country at war.
Aside from the industrial class the women who suffered most at the outbreak of the war were those that worked in the shops. Paris is a city of little shops. The average American tourist knows them not, for her hectic experiences in the old days were confined to the Galeries Lafayette, the Louvre, the Bon Marché, and the Trois Quartièrs. But during the greater part of 1915 street after street exhibited the dreary picture of shuttered windows, where once every sort of delicate, solid, ingenious, costly, or catch-penny ware was displayed. Some of these were closed because the owner had no wife, many because the factories that supplied them were closed, or the workmen no longer could be paid. To-day one sees few of these wide iron shutters except at night, but the immediate consequence of the sudden change of the nation’s life was that thousands of girls and women were thrown out of work: clerks, cashiers, dressmakers’ assistants, artificial flower makers, florists, confectioners, workers in the fancy shops, makers of fine lingerie, extra servants and waitresses in the unfashionable but numerous restaurants. And then there were the women of the opera chorus, and those connected with the theater; and not only the actresses’ and the actors’ families, but the wives of scene shifters sent off to the trenches, and of all the other humble folk employed about theaters, great and small.
The poor of France do not invest their money in savings’ banks. They buy bonds. On the Monday after mobilization the banks of France announced that they would buy no bonds. These poor bewildered women would have starved if the women of the more fortunate classes had not immediately begun to organize relief stations and ouvroirs.
Madame Lepauze, better known to the reading public of France as Daniel Lesauer, who is also the wife of the curator of the Petit Palais, was the first to open a restaurant for soup, and this was besieged from morning until night even before the refugees from Belgium and the invaded districts of France began to pour in. Her home is in the Petit Palais, and in the public gardens behind was Le Pavillion, one of the prettiest and most popular restaurants of Paris. She made no bones about asking the proprietor to place the restaurant and all that remained of his staff at her disposal, and hastily organizing a committee, began at once to ladle out soup. Many other dépôts were organized almost simultaneously (and not only in Paris but in the provincial towns), and when women were too old or too feeble to come for their daily ration it was left at their doors by carts containing immense boilers of that nourishing soup only the French know how to make.
Madame Lepauze estimates that her station alone fed a million women and children. Moreover, she and all the other women engaged in this patriotic duty had soon depleted their wardrobes after the refugees began streaming down from the north; it was generally said that not a lady in Paris had more than one useful dress left and that was on her back.
Many of these charitable women fled to the South during that breathless period when German occupation seemed inevitable, but others, like Madame Pierre Goujon, of whom I shall have much to say later, and the Countess Greffuhle (a member of the valiant Chimay family of Belgium), stuck to their posts and went about publicly in order to give courage to the millions whose poverty forced them to remain.
The next step in aiding this army of helpless women was to open ouvroirs, or workrooms. Madame Paquin never closed this great branch of her dressmaking establishment, and, in common with hundreds of other ouvroirs that sprang up all over France, paid the women a wage on which they could exist (besides giving them one meal) in return for at least half a day’s work on necessary articles for the men in the trenches: underclothing, sleeping bags, felt slippers, night garments; sheets and pillow-cases for the hospitals. As the vast majority of the peasant farmers and petite bourgeoisie had been used to sleeping in airtight rooms they suffered bitterly during that first long winter and spring in the open. If it had not been for these bee-hive ouvroirs and their enormous output there would have been far more deaths from pneumonia and bronchitis, and far more cases of tuberculosis than there were.
A good many of these ouvroirs are still in existence, but many have been closed; for as the shops reopened the women not only went back to their former situations but by degrees either applied for or were invited to fill those left vacant by men of fighting age.
And then there were the munition factories! The manager of one of these Usines de Guerre in Paris told me that he made the experiment of employing women with the deepest misgiving. Those seeking positions were just the sort of women he would have rejected if the sturdy women of the farms had applied and given him any choice. They were girls or young married women who had spent all the working years of their lives stooping over sewing-machines; sunken chested workers in artificial flowers; confectioners; florists; waitresses; clerks. One and all looked on the verge of a decline with not an ounce of reserve vitality for work that taxed the endurance of men. But as they protested that they not only wished to support themselves instead of living on charity, but were passionately desirous of doing their bit while their men were enduring the dangers and privations of active warfare, and as his men were being withdrawn daily for service at the Front, he made up his mind to employ them and refill their places as rapidly as they collapsed.
He took me over his great establishment and showed me the result. It was one of the astonishing examples not only of the grim courage of women under pressure but of that nine-lived endowment of the female in which the male never can bring himself to believe save only when confronted by practical demonstration.
In the correspondence and card-indexing room there was a little army of young and middle-aged women whose superior education enabled them to do a long day’s work with the minimum output of physical energy, and these for the most part came from solid middle-class families whose income had been merely cut by the war, not extinguished. It was as I walked along the galleries and down the narrow passages between the noisy machinery of the rest of that large factory that I asked the superintendent again and again if these women were of the same class as the original applicants. The answer in every case was the same.
The women had high chests and brawny arms. They tossed thirty-and forty-pound shells from one to the other as they once may have tossed a cluster of artificial flowers. Their skins were clean and often ruddy. Their eyes were bright. They showed no signs whatever of overwork. They were almost without exception the original applicants.
I asked the superintendent if there were no danger of heart strain. He said there had been no sign of it so far. Three times a week they were inspected by women doctors appointed by the Government, and any little disorder was attended to at once. But not one had been ill a day. Those that had suffered from chronic dyspepsia, colds, and tubercular tendency were now as strong as if they had lived their lives on farms. It was all a question of plenty of fresh air, and work that strengthened the muscles of their bodies, developed their chests and gave them stout nerves and long nights of sleep.
As I looked at those bare heavily muscled arms I wondered if any man belonging to them would ever dare say his soul was his own again. But as their heads are always charmingly dressed (an odd effect surmounting greasy overalls) and as they invariably powder before filing out at the end of the day’s work, it is probable that a comfortable reliance may still be placed upon the ineradicable coquetry of the French woman. And the scarcer the men in the future the more numerous, no doubt, will be the layers of powder.
I asked one pretty girl if she really liked the heavy, dirty, malodorous work, and she replied that making boutonnières for gentlemen in a florist-shop was paradise by contrast, but she was only too happy to be doing as much for France in her way as her brother was in his. She added that when the war was over she should take off her blue linen apron streaked with machine grease once for all, not remain from choice as many would. But meanwhile it was not so bad! She made ten francs a day. Some of the women received as high as fifteen. Moreover, they bossed the few men whose brawn was absolutely indispensable and must be retained in the usine at all costs.
These men took their orders meekly. Perhaps they were amused. The French are an ironic race. Perhaps they bided their time. But they never dreamed of disobeying those Amazons whose foot the Kaiser of all the Boches had placed on their necks.
One of the greatest of these Usines de Guerre is at Lyons, in the buildings of the Exposition held shortly before the outbreak of the war. I went to this important Southern city (a beautiful city, which I shall always associate with the scent of locust[B]It is called acacia in Europe.-blossoms) at the suggestion of James Hazen Hyde. He gave me a letter to the famous Mayor, M. Herriot, who was a member of the last Briand Cabinet.
M. Herriot was also a Senator, and as he was leaving for Paris a few hours after I presented my letter he turned me over to a friend of his wife, Madame Castell, a native of Lyons, the daughter of one silk merchant and the widow of another. This charming young woman, who had spent her married life in New York, by the way, took me everywhere, and although we traversed many vast distances in the Mayor’s automobile, it seemed to me that I walked as many miles in hospitals, factories, ateliers (workrooms for teaching the mutilated new trades), and above all in the Usine de Guerre.
Here not only were thousands of women employed but a greater variety of classes. The women of the town, unable to follow the army and too plucky to live on charity, had been among the first to ask for work. The directeur beat his forehead when I asked him how they behaved when not actually at the machines, but at least they had proved as faithful and skillful as their more respectable sisters.
Lyons was far more crowded and lively than Paris, which is so quiet that it calls to mind the lake that filled the crater of Mont Pelée before the eruption of 1902. But this fine city of the South—situated almost as beautifully as Paris on both sides of a river—is not only a junction, it not only has industries of all sorts besides the greatest silk factories in the world, but every train these days brings down wounded for its many hospitals, and the next train brings the family and friends of these men, who, when able to afford it, establish themselves in the city for the period of convalescence. The restaurants and cafés were always crowded and this handsome city on the Rhône was almost gay.
There were practically no unemployed. The old women of the poor went daily to an empty court-room where they sat in the little amphitheater sewing or knitting. In countless other ouvroirs they were cutting and making uniforms with the same facility that men had long since acquired, or running sleeping bags through sewing-machines at the rate of thousands a day. M. Herriot “mobilized” Lyons early in the war, and its contribution to the needs of the Front has been enormous.
The réformés (men too badly mutilated to be of further use at the front) are being taught many new trades in the ateliers: toy-making, wooden shoes with leather tops for the trenches, cigarette packages, baskets, typewriting, stenography, weaving, repairing. In one of the many ateliers I visited with Madame Castell I saw a man who had only one arm, and the left at that, and only a thumb and little finger remaining of the ten he had taken into war, learning to write anew. When I was shown one of his exercises I was astounded. He wrote far better than I have ever done, and I can recall few handwritings so precise and elegant. One may imagine what a man accomplishes who still has a good hand and arm. It was both interesting and pathetic to see these men guiding their work with their remaining hand and manipulating the machinery with the stump of the other arm. Those who come out from the battlefields with health intact will be no charge to the state, no matter what their mutilations.
One poor fellow came in to the École Joffre while I was there. He was accompanied by three friends of the Mayor’s, who hoped that some one of the new occupations might suit his case. He was large and strong and ruddy and he had no hands. Human ingenuity had not yet evolved far enough for him. He was crying quietly as he turned away. But his case is by no means hopeless, for when his stumps are no longer sensitive he will be fitted with a mechanical apparatus that will take the place of the hands he has given to France.
Madame Castell’s work is supplying hospitals with anything, except food, they may demand, and in this she has been regularly helped by the Needlework Guild of Pennsylvania.
Madame Harriot’s ouvroir occupies the magnificent festal salon of the Hôtel de Ville, with its massive chandeliers and its memories of a thousand dinners and balls of state from the days of Louis XIV down to the greatest of its mayors. She supplies French prisoners in Germany with the now famous comfort packages. Some of them she and her committee put up themselves; others are brought in by members of the family or the friends of the unfortunate men in Germany. The pièce de résistance had always been a round loaf of bread, but on the day I first visited the salon consternation was reigning. Word had come from Germany that no more bread nor any sort of food stuff should be sent in the packages, and hundreds were being unpacked. Crisp loaves of bread that would have brought comfort to many a poor soul were lying all over the place.
The secret of the order was that civilian Germans were begging bread of the French prisoners, and this, of course, was bad for the tenderly nursed German morale.
Mlle. Javal, unlike Madame Balli, was not a member of the fashionable society of Paris, a femme du monde, or a reigning beauty. But in certain respects their cases were not dissimilar. Born into one of the innumerable sets-within-sets of the upper bourgeoisie, living on inherited wealth, seeing as little as possible of the world beyond her immediate circle of relatives and friends, as curiously indifferent to it as only a haughty French bourgeoisie can be, growing up in a large and comfortable home—according to French ideas of comfort—governing it, when the duty descended to her shoulders, with all the native and practised economy of the French woman, but until her mother’s illness without a care, and even then without an extra contact, Mlle. Javal’s life slipped along for many years exactly as the lives of a million other girls in that entrenched secluded class slipped along before the tocsin, ringing throughout the land on August 2, 1914, announced that once more the men of France must fight to defend the liberty of all classes alike.
Between wars the great central mass of the population in France known as the bourgeoisie—who may be roughly defined as those that belong neither to the noblesse at one end nor to the industrials and peasant proprietors at the other, but have capital, however minute, invested in rentes or business, and who, beginning with the grande bourgeoisie, the haughty possessors of great inherited fortunes, continuing through the financial and commercial magnates, down to the petite bourgeoisie who keep flourishing little shops, hotels, etc.—live to get the most out of life in their narrow, traditional, curiously intensive way. They detest travel, although at least once in their lives they visit Switzerland and Italy; possibly, but with no such alarming frequency as to suggest an invasion, England.
The most aspiring read the literature of the day, see the new plays (leaving the jeune fille at home), take an intelligent interest in the politics of their own country, visit the annual salons, and if really advanced discuss with all the national animation such violent eruptions upon the surface of the delicately poised art life, which owes its very being to France, as impressionism, cubism, etc. Except among the very rich, where, as elsewhere, temptations are many and pressing, they have few scandals to discuss, but much gossip, and there is the ever recurrent flutter over births, marriages, deaths. They have no snobbery in the climber’s sense. When a bourgeois, however humble in origin, graduates as an “intellectual” he is received with enthusiasm (if his table manners will pass muster) by the noblesse; but it is far more difficult for a nobleman to enter the house of a bourgeois. It is seldom that he wants to, but sometimes there are sound financial reasons for forming this almost illegitimate connection, and then his motives are penetrated by the keen French mind—a mind born without illusions—and interest alone dictates the issue. The only climbers in our sense are the wives of politicians suddenly risen to eminence, and even then the social ambitions of these ladies are generally confined to arriving in the exclusive circles of the haute bourgeoisie.
The bourgeoisie are as proud of their class as the noblesse of theirs, and its top stratum regards itself as the real aristocracy of the Republique Française, the families bearing ancient titles as anachronistic; although oddly enough they and the ancient noblesse are quite harmonious in their opinion of the Napoleonic aristocracy! One of the leaders in the grande bourgeoisie wrote me at a critical moment in the affairs of Greece: “It looks as if Briand would succeed in placing the lovely Princess George of Greece on the throne, and assuredly it is better for France to have a Bonaparte there than no one at all!”
It is only when war comes and the men and women of the noblesse rise to the call of their country as automatically as a reservist answers the tocsin or the printed order of mobilization, that the bourgeoisie is forced to concede that there is a tremendous power still resident in the prestige, organizing ability, social influence, tireless energy, and self-sacrifice of the disdained aristocracy.
During the war oeuvres have been formed on so vast a scale that one sees on many committee lists the names of noblesse and bourgeois side by side. But it is a defensive alliance, bred of the stupendous necessities of war, and wherever possible each prefers to work without the assistance of the other. The French Army is the most democratic in the world. French society has no conception of the word, and neither noblesse nor bourgeoisie has the faintest intention of taking it up as a study. There is no active antagonism between the two classes—save, to be sure, when individual members show their irreconcilable peculiarities at committee meetings—merely a profound indifference.
Mlle. Javal, although living the usual restricted life before the war, and far removed from that section of her class that had begun to astonish Paris by an unprecedented surrender to the extravagancies in public which seemed to obsess the world before Europe abruptly returned to its normal historic condition of warfare, was as highly educated, as conversant with the affairs of the day, political, intellectual, and artistic, as any young woman in Europe. But the war found her in a semi-invalid condition and heartbroken over the death of her mother, whom she had nursed devotedly through a long illness; her girlhood intimacies broken up not only by the marriage of her friends, but also by her own long seclusion; and—being quite French—feeling too aged, at a little over thirty, ever to interest any man again, aside from her fortune. In short she regarded her life as finished, but she kept house dutifully for her brother—her only close relation—and surrendered herself to melancholy reflections.
Then came the war. At first she took merely the languid interest demanded by her intelligence, being too absorbed in her own low condition to experience more than a passing thrill of patriotic fervor. But she still read the newspapers, and, moreover, women in those first anxious days were meeting and talking far more frequently than was common to a class that preferred their own house and garden to anything their friends, or the boulevards, or even the parks of Paris, could offer them. Mlle. Javal found herself seeing more and more of that vast circle of inherited friends as well as family connections which no well-born bourgeoise can escape, and gradually became infected with the excitement of the hour; despite the fact that she believed her poor worn-out body never would take a long walk again.
Then, one day, the thought suddenly illuminated her awakening mind: “How fortunate I am! I have no one to lose in this terrible war!” (Her brother was too delicate for service.) “These tears I see every day after news has come that a father, a brother, a husband, a son, has fallen on the battlefield or died of horrible agony in hospital, I shall never shed. Almost alone of the many I know, and the millions of women in France, I am mercifully exempt from an agony that has no end. If I were married, and were older and had sons, I should be suffering unendurably now. I am fortunate indeed and feel an ingrate that I have ever repined.”
Then naturally enough followed the thought that it behooved her to do something for her country, not only as a manifest of thanksgiving but also because it was her duty as a young woman of wealth and leisure.
Oddly enough considering the delicate health in which she firmly believed, she tried to be a nurse. There were many amateurs in the hospitals in those days when France was as short of nurses as of everything else except men, and she was accepted.
But nursing then involved standing all day on one’s feet and sometimes all night as well, and her pampered body was far from strong enough for such a tax in spite of her now glowing spirit. While she was casting about for some work in which she might really play a useful and beneficent rôle a friend invited her to drive out to the environs of Paris and visit the wretched éclopés, to whom several charitable ladies occasionally took little gifts of cigarettes and chocolate.
Then, at last, Mlle. Javal found herself; and from a halting apprehensive seeker, still weary in mind and limb, she became almost abruptly one of the most original and executive women in France—incidentally one of the healthiest. When I met her, some twenty months later, she had red cheeks and was the only one of all those women of all classes slaving for France who told me she never felt tired; in fact felt stronger every day.
The éclopés, in the new adaptation of the word, are men who are not ill enough for the military hospitals and not well enough to fight. They may have slight wounds, or temporary affections of the sight or hearing, the effect of heavy colds; or rheumatism, debilitating sore throat, or furiously aching teeth; or they may be suffering too severely from shock to be of any use in the trenches.
There are between six and seven thousand hospitals in France to-day (possibly more: the French never will give you any exact military figures; but certainly not less); but their beds are for the severely wounded or for those suffering from dysentery, fevers, pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis. In those first days of war before France, caught unprepared in so many ways, had found herself and settled down to the business of war; in that trying interval while she was ill equipped to care for men brought in hourly to the base hospitals, shattered by new and hideous wounds; there was no place for the merely ailing. Men with organic affections, suddenly developed under the terrific strain, were dismissed as Réformés Numéro II—unmutilated in the service of their country; in other words, dismissed from the army and, for nearly two years, without pension. But the large number of those temporarily out of condition were sent back of the lines, or to a sort of camp outside of Paris, to rest until they were in a condition to fight again.
If it had not been for Mlle. Javal it is possible that more men than one cares to estimate would never have fought again. The éclopés at that time were the most abject victims of the war. They remained together under military discipline, either behind the lines or on the outskirts of Paris, herded in barns, empty factories, thousands sleeping without shelter of any sort. Straw for the most part composed their beds, food was coarse and scanty; they were so wretched and uncomfortable, so exposed to the elements, and without care of any sort, that their slight ailments developed not infrequently into serious and sometimes fatal cases of bronchitis, pneumonia, and even tuberculosis.
This was a state of affairs well known to General Joffre and none caused him more distress and anxiety. But—this was between August and November, 1914, it must be remembered, when France was anything but the magnificent machine she is to-day—it was quite impossible for the authorities to devote a cell of their harassed brains to the temporarily inept. Every executive mind in power was absorbed in pinning the enemy down, since he could not be driven out, feeding the vast numbers of men at the Front, reorganizing the munition factories, planning for the vast supplies of ammunition suddenly demanded, equipping the hospitals—when the war broke out there were no installations in the hospitals near the Front except beds—obtaining the necessary amount of surgical supplies, taking care of the refugees that poured into the larger cities by every train not only from Belgium but from the French towns invaded or bombarded—to mention but a few of the problems that beset France suddenly forced to rally and fight for her life, and, owing to the Socialist majority in the Chamber of Deputies, criminally unprepared.
There were plenty of able minds in France that knew what was coming; months before the war broke out (a year, one of the infirmière majors told me; but, as I have said, it is difficult to pin a French official down to exact statements) the Service de Santé (Health Department of the Ministry of War) asked the Countess d’Haussonville, President of the Red Cross, to train as many nurses as quickly as possible, for there was not an extra nurse in a military hospital of France—in many there was none at all. But these patriotic and far-sighted men were powerless. The three years’ service bill was the utmost result of their endeavors, and for six months after the war began they had not a gun larger than the famous Seventy-fives but those captured at the Battle of the Marne.
As for the poor éclopés, there never was a clearer example of the weaker going to the wall and the devil taking the hindmost. They had been turned out to grass mildly afflicted, but in a short time they were progressing rapidly toward the grave or that detestable status known as Réformés Numéro II. And every man counts in France. Quite apart from humanity it was a terribly serious question for the Grand Quartier Général, where Joffre and his staff had their minds on the rack.
The Curé of St. Honoré d’Eylau was the first to discover the éclopés, and not only sent stores to certain of the dépôts where they were herded, but persuaded several ladies of Paris to visit and take them little presents. But practically every energetic and patriotic woman in France was already mobilized in the service of her country. As I have explained elsewhere, they had opened ouvroirs, where working girls suddenly deprived of the means of livelihood could fend off starvation by making underclothing and other necessaries for the men at the Front. Upon these devoted women, assisted by nearly all the American women resident in Paris, fell to a great extent the care of the refugees; and many were giving out rations three times a day, not only to refugees but to the poor of Paris, suddenly deprived of their wage earners. It was some time before the Government got round to paying the daily allowance of one-franc-twenty-five to the wives and seventy-five centimes (fifty outside of Paris) for each child, known as the allocation. Moreover, in those dread days when the Germans were driving straight for Paris, many fled with the Government to Bordeaux (not a few Americans ignominiously scampered off to England) and did not return for three weeks or more; during which time those brave enough to remain did ten times as much work as should be expected even of the nine-lived female.
They knew at this critical time as well as later when they were breathing normally again that the poor éclopés beyond the barrier were without shelter in the autumn rains and altogether in desperate plight; but it was only now and again that a few found time to pay them a hasty visit and cheer them with those little gifts so dear to the imaginative heart of the French soldier. Sooner or later, of course, the Government would have taken them in hand and organized them as meticulously as they have organized every conceivable angle of this great struggle; but meanwhile thousands would have died or shambled home to litter the villages as hopeless invalids. Perhaps hundreds of thousands is a safer computation, and these hundreds of thousands Mlle. Javal saved for France.
Today there are over one hundred and thirty Éclopé Dépôts in France; two or three are near Paris, the rest in the towns and villages of the War Zone. The long baraques are well built, rain-proof and draught-proof, but with many windows which are open when possible, and furnished with comfortable beds. In each dépôt there is a hospital baraque for those that need that sort of rest or care, a diet kitchen, and a fine large kitchen for those that can eat anything and have appetites of daily increasing vigor.
These dépôts are laid out like little towns, the streets of the large ones named after famous generals and battles. Down one side is a row of low buildings in which the officers, doctors and nurses sleep; a chemist shop; a well-fitted bathroom; storerooms for supplies; and consulting offices. There is also, almost invariably, a cantine set up by young women—English, American, French—where the men are supplied at any time with cocoa, coffee, milk, lemonade, cakes; and the little building itself is gaily decorated to please the color-loving French eye.
Mlle. Javal took me out to the environs of Paris to visit one of the largest of these dépôts, and there the men in hospital were nursed by Sisters of Charity. There was a set of well-filled bookshelves and a stage in the great refectory, where the men could sit on rainy days, read, write letters, sing, smoke, recite, and get up little plays. I saw a group of very contented looking poilus in the yard playing cards and smoking under a large tree.
The surroundings were hideous—a railroad yard if I am not mistaken—but the little “town” itself was very pleasing to the eye, and certainly a haven of refuge for soldiers whose bodies and minds needed only repose, care, and kind words to send them back to the Front sounder by far than they had been in their unsanitary days before the war.
Here they are forced to sleep with their windows open, to bathe, eat good food, instead of mortifying the body for the sake of filling the family stocking; and they are doctored intelligently, their teeth filled, their tonsils and adenoids taken out, their chronic indigestion cured. Those who survive the war will never forget the lesson and will do missionary work when they are at home once more.
All that was dormant in Mlle. Javal’s fine brain seemed to awake under the horrifying stimulus of that first visit to the wretches herded like animals outside of Paris, where every man thought he was drafted for death and did not care whether he was or not; where, in short, morale, so precious an asset to any nation in time of war, was practically nil.
The first step was to get a powerful committee together. Mlle. Javal, although wealthy, could not carry through this gigantic task alone. The moratorium had stopped the payment of rents, factories were closed, tenants mobilized. Besides, she had already given right and left, as everybody else had done who had anything to give. It was growing increasingly difficult to raise money.
But nothing could daunt Mlle. Javal. She managed to get together with the least possible delay a committee of three hundred, and she obtained subscriptions in money from one thousand five hundred firms, besides donations of food and clothing from eight hundred others, headed by the King of Spain.
Her subscription list was opened by President Poincaré with a gift of one thousand francs; the American War Relief Clearing House gave her four thousand three hundred francs, Madame Viviani contributed four thousand francs; the Comédie Française one thousand, and Raphael Weill of San Francisco seven thousand seven hundred and fifty; Alexander Phillips of New York three thousand; and capitalists, banks, bank clerks, civil servants, colonials, school children, contributed sums great and small.
Concerts were given, bazaars hastily but successfully organized, collections taken up. There was no end to Mlle. Javal’s resource, and the result was an almost immediate capital of several hundred thousand francs. When public interest was fairly roused, les pauvres éclopés became one of the abiding concerns of the French people, and they have responded as generously as they did to the needs of the more picturesque refugee or the starving within their gates.
This great organization, known as “L’Assistance aux Dépôts d’Éclopés, Petits Blessés et Petites Malades, et aux Cantonments de Repos,” was formally inaugurated on November 14, 1914, with Madame Jules Ferry as President, and Madame Viviani as Vice-President. Mlle. Javal shows modestly on the official list as Secrétaire Genérale.
The Government agreed to put up the baraques, and did so with the least possible delay. Mlle. Javal and her Committee furnish the beds (there were seven hundred in one of the dépôts she showed me), support the dietary kitchen and the hospital baraques, and supply the bathrooms, libraries, and all the little luxuries. The Government supports the central kitchen (grand régime), the doctors, and, when necessary, the surgeons.
Mlle. Javal took me twice through the immense establishment on the Champs Élysées, where she has not only her offices but workrooms and storerooms. In one room a number of ladies—in almost all of these oeuvres women give their services, remaining all day or a part of every day—were doing nothing but rolling cigarettes. I looked at them with a good deal of interest. They belonged to that class of French life I have tried to describe, in which the family is the all important unit; where children rarely play with other children, sometimes never; where the mother is a sovereign who is content to remain within the boundaries of her own small domain for months at a time, particularly if she lives not in an apartment, but in an hôtel with a garden behind it. Thousands of these exemplary women of the bourgeoisie—hundreds of thousands—care little or nothing for “society.” They call at stated intervals, upon which ceremonious occasion they drink coffee and eat pastry; give their young people dances when the exact conventional moment has arrived for putting them on the market, and turn out in force at the great periodicities of life, but otherwise to live and die in the bosom of The Family is the measure of their ambition.
I shall have a good deal to say later of the possible results of the vast upheaval of home life caused by this war; but of these women sitting for hours on end in a back room of Mlle. Javal’s central establishment in Paris it is only necessary to state that they looked as intent upon making cigarettes in a professional manner, beyond cavil by the canny poilu, as if they were counting the family linen or superintending one of the stupendous facts of existence, a daughter’s trousseau. Only the one to whom I was introduced raised her eyes, and I should not have been expected to distract her attention for a moment had not she told Mlle. Javal that she had read my books (in the Tauchnitz edition) and would like to meet me when I called.
It seemed to me that everything conceivable was in those large storerooms. I had grown used to seeing piles of sleeping-suits, sleeping-bags, trench slippers, warm underclothes, sabots, all that is comprised in the word vêtement; but here were also immense boxes of books and magazines, donated by different firms and editors, about to be shipped to the dépôts; games of every sort; charming photogravures, sketches, prints, pictures, that would make the baraques gay and beloved—all to be interspersed, however, with mottoes from famous writers calculated to elevate not only the morale but the morals of the idle.
Then there were cases of handkerchiefs, of pens and paper, pencils, songs with and without music, knives, pipes, post-cards, razors, parasiticides, chocolate, vaseline, perfumes (many of these articles are donations from manufacturers), soap in vast quantities; books serious and diverting; pamphlets purposed to keep patriotism at fever pitch, or to give the often ignorant peasant soldier a clear idea of the designs of the enemy.
In small compartments at one end of the largest of the rooms were exhibited the complete installations of the baraques, the portable beds, kitchen and dining-room utensils and dishes, all extraordinarily neat and compact. In another room was a staff engaged in correspondence with officers, doctors and surgeons at the Front, poilus, or the hundred and one sources that contribute to the great oeuvre. Girls, young widows, young and middle-aged married women whose husbands and sons were fighting, all give their days freely and work far harder and more conscientiously than most women do for hire.
All of these presents, when they arrive at the dépôts, are given out personally by the officers, and this as much as the genuine democracy of the men in command has served to break down the suspicious or surly spirit of the French peasant on his first service, to win over the bumptious industrial, and even to subdue the militant anarchist and predatory Apache. This was Mlle. Javal’s idea, and has solved a problem for many an anxious officer.
She said to me with a shrug: “My brother and I are now run by our servants. I have quite lost control. Our home is like a bachelor apartment. After the war is over I must turn them all out and get a new staff.”
And this is but one of the minor problems for men and women the Great War has bred.
Magic lanterns and cinemas are also among the presents sent to the éclopé dépôts in the War Zone; some of which, by the way, are charmingly situated. I visited one just outside of a town which by a miracle had escaped the attention of the enemy during the retreat after the Battle of the Marne. The buildings of the dépôt have been built in the open fields but heavily ambushed by fine old trees. Near by is a river picturesquely winding and darkly shaded. Here I saw a number of éclopés fishing as calmly as if the roar of the guns that came down the wind from Verdun were but the precursor of an evening storm.
In the large refectory men were writing home; reading not only books but the daily and weekly newspapers with which the dépôts are generously supplied by the editors of France. Others were exercising in a gymnasium or playing games with that childish absorption that seems to be as natural to a soldier at the Front when off duty as the desire for a bath or a limbering of the muscles when he leaves the trenches.
Another of Mlle. Javal’s ideas was to send to the War Zone automobiles completely equipped with a dental apparatus in charge of a competent dentist. These automobiles travel from dépôt to dépôt and even give their services to hospitals where there are no dental installations.
Other automobiles have a surgeon and the equipment for immediate facial operations; and there are migratory pedicures, masseurs, and barbers. So heavy has been the subscription, so persistent and intelligent the work of all connected with this great oeuvre, so increasingly fertile the amazing brain of Mlle. Javal, that practically nothing is now wanted to make these Dépôts d’Éclopés perfect instruments for saving men for the army by the hundred thousand. I once heard the estimate of the army’s indebtedness placed as high as a million and a half.
The work of M. Frederic Masson must not be ignored, and Madame Balli assisted him for a short time, until compelled to concentrate on her other work; but it is not comparable in scope to that of Mlle. Javal. Hers is unprecedented, one of the greatest achievements of France behind the lines, and of any woman at any time.
Madame Vérone, one of the leading lawyers and feminists of Paris, told me that without the help of the women France could not have remained in the field six months. This is no doubt true. Probably it has been true of every war that France has ever waged. Nor has French history ever been reluctant to admit its many debts to the sex it admires, without idealization perhaps, but certainly in more ways than one. As far back as the reign of Louis XI memoirs pay their tribute to the value of the French woman both in peace and in war. This war has been one of the greatest incentives to women in all the belligerent countries that has so far occurred in the history of the world, and the outcome is a problem that the men of France, at least, are already revolving in their vigilant brains.
On the other hand the inept have just managed to exist. Madame Vérone took me one day to a restaurant on Montmartre. It had been one of the largest cabarets of that famous quarter, and at five or six tables running its entire length I saw seven hundred men and women eating a substantial déjeuner of veal swimming in spinach, dry purée of potatoes, salad, apples, cheese, and coffee. For this they paid ten cents (fifty centimes) each, the considerable deficit being made up by the ladies who had founded the oeuvre and run it since the beginning of the war.
Nearly all of these people escaping charity by so narrow a margin had been second-rate actors and scene shifters, or artists—of both sexes—the men being either too old or otherwise ineligible for the army. This was their only square meal during twenty-four hours. They made at home such coffee as they could afford, and went without dinner more often than not. The daughter of this very necessary charity, a handsome strongly built girl, told me that she had waited on her table without a day’s rest for eighteen months.
I am frank to say that I could not eat the veal and spinach, and confined myself to the potatoes and bread. But no doubt real hunger is a radical cure for fastidiousness.
Later in the day Madame Vérone took me to the once famous Abbaye, now a workroom for the dressers of dolls, a revived industry which has given employment to hundreds of women. Some of the wildest revels of Paris had taken place in the restaurant now incongruously lined with rows of dolls dressed in every national costume of Allied Europe. They sat sedately against the walls, Montenegrins, Serbians, Russians, Italians, Sicilians, Roumanians, Poilus, Alsatians, Tommies,[C]No doubt there are now little Uncle Sams. a strange medley, correctly but cheaply dressed. At little tables, mute records of disreputable nights, sat women stitching, and outside the streets of Montmartre were as silent as the grave.
A few days later I was introduced to a case of panurgy that would have been almost extreme in any but a Frenchwoman.
Madame Camille Lyon took me to call on Madame Pertat, one of the most successful doctors in Paris. I found both her history and her personality highly interesting, and her experience no doubt will be a severe shock to many Americans who flatter themselves that we alone of all women possess the priceless gift of driving initiative.
Madame Pertat was born in a provincial town, of a good family, and received the usual education with all the little accomplishments that were thought necessary for a young girl of the comfortable bourgeoisie. She confessed to me naively that she had coquetted a good deal. As her brother was a doctor and brought his friends to the house it was natural that she should marry into the same profession; and as she continued to meet many doctors and was a young woman of much mental curiosity and a keen intelligence it was also natural that she should grow more and more deeply interested in the science of medicine and take part in the learned discussions at her table.
One day her husband, after a warm argument with her on the new treatment of an old disease, asked her why she did not study medicine. She had ample leisure, no children, and, he added gallantly, a mind to do it justice.
The suggestion horrified her, as it would have horrified her large family connection and circle of friends in that provincial town where standards are as slowly undermined as the cliffs of France by the action of the sea.
Shortly afterward they moved to Paris, where her husband, being a man of first-rate ability and many friends, soon built up a lucrative practice.
Being childless, full of life, and fond of variety, they spent far more money than was common to their class, saving practically nothing. They had a handsome apartment with the usual number of servants; Madame Pertat’s life was made up of a round of dressmakers, bridge, calls during the daytime, and companioning her husband at night to any one of the more brilliant restaurants where there was dancing. Sometimes they dined early and went to the opera or the play.
Suddenly the really serious mind of this woman revolted. She told me that she said to her husband: “This is abominable. I cannot stand this life. I shall study medicine, which, after all, is the only thing that really interests me.”
She immediately entered upon the ten years’ course, which included four years as an interne. France has now so far progressed that she talks of including the degree of baccalaureate in the regular school course of women, lest they should wish to study for a profession later; but at that time Madame Pertat’s course in medicine was long drawn out, owing to the necessity of reading for this degree.
She was also obliged to interrupt her triumphal progress in order to bring her first and only child into the world; but finally graduated with the highest honors, being one of the few women of France who have received the diploma to practice.
To practice, however, was the least of her intentions, now that she had a child to occupy her mind and time. Then, abruptly, peace ended and war came. Men disappeared from their usual haunts like mist. It was as if the towns turned over and emptied their men on to the ancient battlefields, where, generation after generation, war rages on the same historic spots but re-naming its battles for the benefit of chronicler and student.
M. le Docteur Pertat was mobilized with the rest. Madame’s bank account was very slim. Then once more she proved that she was a woman of energy and decision. Without any formalities she stepped into her husband’s practice as a matter of course. On the second day of the war she ordered out his runabout and called on every patient on his immediate list, except those that would expect attention in his office during the usual hours of consultation.
Her success was immediate. She lost none of her husband’s patients and gained many more, for every doctor of military age had been called out. Of course her record in the hospitals was well known, not only to the profession but to many of Dr. Pertat’s patients. Her income, in spite of the war, is larger than it ever was before.
She told me that when the war was over she should resign in her husband’s favor as far as her general practice was concerned, but should have a private practice of her own, specializing in skin diseases and facial blemishes. She could never be idle again, and if it had not been for the brooding shadow of war and her constant anxiety for her husband, she should look back upon those two years of hard medical practice and usefulness as the most satisfactory of her life.
She is still a young woman, with vivid yellow hair elaborately dressed, and it was evident that she had none of the classic professional woman’s scorn of raiment. Her apartment is full of old carved furniture and objets d’art, for she had always been a collector. Her most conspicuous treasure is a rare and valuable Russian censer of chased silver. This was on the Germans’ list of valuables when they were sure of entering Paris in September, 1914. Through their spies they knew the location of every work of art in the most artistic city in the world.
Madame Pertat is one of the twenty-five women doctors in Paris. All are flourishing. When the doctors return for leave of absence etiquette forbids them to visit their old patients while their brothers are still at the Front; and the same rule applies to doctors who are stationed in Paris but are in Government service. The women are having a magnificent inning, and whether they will be as magnanimous as Madame Pertat and take a back seat when the men return remains to be seen. The point is, however, that they are but another example of the advantage of technical training combined with courage and energy.
On the other hand, I heard of many women who, thrown suddenly out of work, or upon their own resources, developed their little accomplishments and earned a bare living. One daughter of an avocat, who had just managed to keep and educate his large family and was promptly mobilized, left the Beaux Arts where she had studied for several years, and after some floundering turned her knowledge of designing to the practical art of dress. She goes from house to house designing and cutting out gowns for women no longer able to afford dressmakers but still anxious to please. She hopes in time to be employed in one of the great dressmakers’ establishments, having renounced all thought of being an artist in a more grandiose sense. Meanwhile she keeps the family from starving while her mother and sisters do the housework. Her brothers are in the military colleges and will be called out in due course if the war continues long enough to absorb all the youth of France.
Mlle. E., the woman who told me her story, was suffering from the effects of the war herself. I climbed five flights to talk to her, and found her in a pleasant little apartment looking out over the roofs and trees of Passy. Formerly she had taken a certain number of American girls to board and finish off in the politest tongue in Europe. The few American girls in Paris to-day (barring the anachronisms that paint and plume for the Ritz Hotel) are working with the American Ambulance, the American Fund for French Wounded, or Le Bien-Être du Blessé, and she sits in her high flat alone.
But she too has adapted herself, and kept her little home. She illuminates for a Bible house, and paints exquisite Christmas and Easter cards. Of course she had saved something, for she was the frugal type and restaurants and the cabaret could have no call for her.
But alas! said she, there were the taxes, and ever more taxes. And who could say how long the war would last? I cheerfully suggested that we might have entered upon one of those war cycles so familiar in history and that the world might not know peace again for thirty years. Although the French are very optimistic about the duration of this war (and, no doubt prompted by hope, I am myself) she agreed with me, and reiterated that one must not relax effort for a moment.
Of course she has her filleul (godson) at the Front, a poor poilu who has no family; and when he goes out the captain finds her another. She knits him socks and vests, and sends him such little luxuries as he asks for, always tobacco, and often chocolate.
The French bourgeoisie—or French women of any class for that matter—do not take kindly to clubs. For this reason their organizations limped somewhat in the earlier days and only their natural financial genius, combined with the national practice of economy, enabled them to develop that orderly team work so natural to the Englishwoman. Mlle. E. told me with a wry face that she detested the new clubs formed for knitting and sewing and rolling bandages. “It is only old maids like myself,” she added, “who go regularly. After marriage French women hate to leave their homes. Of course they go daily to the ouvroirs, where they have their imperative duties, but they don’t like it. I shall belong to no club when the war is over and my American girls have returned to Paris.”
Madame Pierre Goujon is another young Frenchwoman who led not only a life of ease and careless happiness up to the Great War, but also, and from childhood, an uncommonly interesting one, owing to the kind fate that made her the daughter of the famous Joseph Reinach.
M. Reinach, it is hardly worth while to state even for the benefit of American readers, is one of the foremost “Intellectuals” of France. Born to great wealth, he determined in his early youth to live a life of active usefulness, and began his career as private secretary to Gambetta. His life of that remarkable Gascon is the standard work. He was conspicuously instrumental in securing justice for Dreyfus, championing him in a fashion that would have wrecked the public career of a man less endowed with courage and personality: twin gifts that have carried him through the stormy seas of public life in France.
His history of the Dreyfus case in seven volumes is accepted as an authoritative however partisan report of one of the momentous crises in the French Republic. He also has written on alcoholism and election reforms, and he has been for many years a Member of the Chamber of Deputies, standing for democracy and humanitarianism.
On a memorable night in Paris, in June, 1916, it was my good fortune to sit next to Monsieur Reinach at a dinner given by Mr. Whitney Warren to the American newspaper men in Paris, an equal number of French journalists, and several “Intellectuals” more or less connected with the press. The scene was the private banquet room of the Hotel de Crillon, a fine old palace on the Place de la Concorde; and in that ornate red and gold room where we dined so cheerfully, grim despots had crowded not so many years before to watch from its long windows the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
I was the only woman, a whim of Mr. Warren’s, and possibly that is the reason I found this dinner in the historic chamber above a dark and quiet Paris the most interesting I ever attended! Perhaps it was because I sat at the head of the room between Monsieur Reinach and Monsieur Hanotaux; perhaps merely because of the evening’s climax.
Of course we talked of nothing but the war (one is bored to death in Paris if any other subject comes up). Only one speech was made, an impassioned torrent of gratitude by Monsieur Hanotaux directed at our distinguished host, an equally impassioned “Friend of France.” I forget just when it was that a rumor began to run around the room and electrify the atmosphere that a great naval engagement had taken place in the North Sea; but it was just after coffee was served that a boy from the office of Le Figaro entered with a proof-sheet for Monsieur Reinach to correct—he contributes a daily column signed “Polybe.” Whether the messenger brought a note from the editor or merely whispered his information, again I do not know, but it was immediately after that Monsieur Reinach told us that news had come through Switzerland of a great sea fight in which the Germans had lost eight battleships.
“And as the news comes from Germany,” he remarked dryly, “and as the Germans admit having lost eight ships we may safely assume that they have lost sixteen.” And so it proved.
The following day in Paris was the gloomiest I have ever experienced in any city, and was no doubt one of the gloomiest in history. Not a word had come from England. Germany had claimed uncontradicted an overwhelming victory, with the pride of Britain either at the bottom of the North Sea or hiding like Churchill’s rats in any hole that would shelter them from further vengeance. People, both French and American, who had so long been waiting for the Somme drive to commence that they had almost relinquished hope went about shaking their heads and muttering: “Won’t the British even fight on the sea?”
I felt suicidal. Presupposing the continued omnipotence of the British Navy, the Battle of the Marne had settled the fate of Germany, but if that Navy had proved another illusion the bottom had fallen out of the world. Not only would Europe be done for, but the United States of America might as well prepare to black the boots of Germany.
When this war is over it is to be hoped that all the censors will be taken out and hanged. In view of the magnificent account of itself which Kitchener’s Army has given since that miserable day, to say nothing of the fashion in which the British Navy lived up to its best traditions in that Battle of Jutland, it seems nothing short of criminal that the English censor should have permitted the world to hold Great Britain in contempt for twenty-four hours and sink poor France in the slough of despond. However, he is used to abuse, and presumably does not mind it.
On the following day he condescended to release the truth. We all breathed again, and I kept one of my interesting engagements with Madame Pierre Goujon.
This beautiful young woman’s husband was killed during the first month of the war. Her brother was reported missing at about the same time, and although his wife has refused to go into mourning there is little hope that he will ever be seen alive again or that his body will be found. There was no room for doubt in the case of Pierre Goujon.
Perhaps if the young officer had died in the natural course of events his widow would have been overwhelmed by her loss, although it is difficult to imagine Madame Goujon a useless member of society at any time. Her brilliant black eyes and her eager nervous little face connote a mind as alert as Monsieur Reinach’s. As it was, she closed her own home—she has no children—returned to the great hôtel of her father in the Parc Monceau, and plunged into work.
It is doubtful if at any period of the world’s history men have failed to accept (or demand) the services of women in time of war, and this is particularly true of France, where women have always counted as units more than in any European state. Whether men have heretofore accepted these invaluable services with gratitude or as a matter-of-course is by the way. Never before in the world’s history have fighting nations availed themselves of woman’s co-operation in as wholesale a fashion as now; and perhaps it is the women who feel the gratitude.
Of course the first duty of every Frenchwoman in those distracted days of August, 1914, was, as I have mentioned before, to feed the poor women so suddenly thrown out of work or left penniless with large families of children. Then came the refugees pouring down from Belgium and the invaded districts of France; and these had to be clothed as well as fed.
In common with other ladies of Paris, both French and American, Madame Goujon established ouvroirs after the retreat of the Germans, in order to give useful occupation to as many of the destitute women as possible. But when these were in running order she joined the Baroness Lejeune (born a Princess Murat and therefore of Napoleon’s blood) in forming an organization both permanent and on the grand scale.
The Baroness Lejeune also had lost her husband early in the war. He had been detached from his regiment and sent to the Belgian front to act as bodyguard to the Prince of Wales. Receiving by a special messenger a letter from his wife, to whom he had been married but a few months, he separated himself from the group surrounding the English Prince and walked off some distance alone to read it. Here a bomb from a taube intended for the Prince hit and killed him instantly.
Being widows themselves it was natural they should concentrate their minds on some organization that would be of service to other widows, poor women without the alleviations of wealth and social eminence, many of them a prey to black despair. Calling in other young widows of their own circle to help (the number was already appalling), they went about their task in a business-like way, opening offices in the Rue Vizelly, which were subsequently moved to 20 Rue Madrid.
When I saw these headquarters in May, 1916, the oeuvre was a year old and in running order. In one room were the high chests of narrow drawers one sees in offices and public libraries. These were for card indexes and each drawer contained the dossiers of widows who had applied for assistance or had been discovered suffering in lonely pride by a member of the committee. Each dossier included a methodical account of the age and condition of the applicant, of the number of her children, and the proof that her husband was either dead or “missing.” Also, her own statement of the manner in which she might, if assisted, support herself.
Branches of this great work—Association d’Aide aux Veuves Militaires de la Grande Guerre—have been established in every department of France; there is even one in Lille. The Central Committee takes care of Paris and environs, the number of widows cared for by them at that time being two thousand. No doubt the number has doubled since.
In each of the rooms I visited a young widow sat before a table, and I wondered then, as I wondered many times, if all the young French widows really were beautiful or only created the complete illusion in that close black-hung toque with its band of white crêpe just above the eyebrows and another from ear to ear beneath the chin. When the eyes are dark, the eyebrows heavily marked, no hair visible, and the profile regular, the effect is one of poignant almost sensational beauty. Madame Goujon looks like a young abbess.
I do not wish to be cynical but it occurred to me that few of these young widows failed to be consoled when they stood before their mirrors arrayed for public view, however empty their hearts. Before I had left Paris I had concluded that it was the mothers who were to be pitied in this accursed war. Life is long and the future holds many mysteries for handsome young widows. Nevertheless the higher happiness is sometimes found in living with a sacred memory and I have an idea that one or two of these young widows I met will be faithful to their dead.
Smooth as this oeuvre appeared on the surface it had not been easy to establish and every day brought its frictions and obstacles. The French temperament is perhaps the most difficult in the world to deal with, even by the French themselves. Our boasted individuality is merely in the primal stage compared with the finished production in France. Even the children are far more complex and intractable than ours. They have definite opinions on the subject of life, character, and the disposition of themselves at the age of six.
Madame Goujon told me that every widow in need of help, no matter how tormented or however worthy, had to be approached with far more tact than possible donors, and her idiosyncrasies studied and accepted before anything could be done with her, much less for her.
Moreover there was the great problem of the women who would not work. These were either of the industrial class, or of that petite bourgeoisie whose husbands, called to the colors, had been small clerks and had made just enough to keep their usually childless wives in a certain smug comfort.
These women, whose economical parents had married them into their own class, or possibly boosted them one step higher, with the aid of the indispensable dot, never had done any work to speak of, and many of them manifested the strongest possible aversion from working, even under the spur of necessity. They had one-franc-twenty-five a day from the Government and much casual help during the first year of the war, when money was still abundant, from charitable members of the noblesse or the haute bourgeoisie. As their dot had been carefully invested in rentes (bonds) if it continued to yield any income at all this was promptly swallowed up by taxes.
As for the women of the industrial class, they not only received one-franc-twenty-five a day but, if living in Paris, seventy-five centimes for each child—fifty if living in the provinces; and families in the lower classes of France are among the largest in the world. Five, ten, fifteen children; I heard these figures mentioned daily, and, on one or two occasions, nineteen. Mrs. Morton Mitchell of San Francisco, who lives in Paris in the Avenue du Bois de Bologne, discovered after the war broke out that the street-sweeper to whom she had often given largesse left behind him when called to the Front something like seventeen dependents. Indeed, they lost no time acquainting her with the fact; they called on her in a body, and she has maintained them ever since.
While it was by no means possible in the case of the more moderate families to keep them in real comfort on the allocation, the women, many of them, had a pronounced distaste for work outside of their little homes, as they had their liberty for the first time in their drab and overworked lives and proposed to enjoy it. No man to dole them out just enough to keep a roof over their heads and for bread and stew, while he spent the rest on tobacco, at the wine-shops, or for dues to the Socialist or Syndicalist Club. Every centime that came in now was theirs to administer as they pleased.
The Mayoress of a small town near Paris told me that she had heard these women say more than once they didn’t care how long the war lasted; owing to the prevalence of the alcoholism octopus which has fastened itself on France of late years the men often beat their wives as brutally as the low-class Englishmen, and this vice added to the miserliness of their race made their sojourn in the trenches a welcome relief. Of course these were the exceptions, for the Frenchman in the main is devoted to his family, but there were enough of them to emerge into a sudden prominence after the outbreak of the war when charitable women were leaving no stone unturned to relieve possible distress.
There is a story of one man with thirteen children who was called to the colors on August second, and whose wife received allocation amounting to more than her husband’s former earnings. It was some time after the war began that the rule was made exempting from service every man with more than six children. When it did go into effect the fathers of large flocks hastened home, anticipating a joyful reunion. But the wife of this man, at least, received him with dismay and ordered him to enlist—within the hour.
“Don’t you realize,” she demanded, “that we never were so well off before? We can save for the first time in our lives and I can get a good job that would not be given me if you were here. Go where you belong. Every man’s place is in the trenches.”
There is not much romance about a marriage of that class, nor is there much romance left in the harried brain of any mother of thirteen.
Exasperating as those women were who preferred to live with their children on the insufficient allocation, it is impossible not to feel a certain sympathy for them. In all their lives they had known nothing but grinding work; liberty is the most precious thing in the world and when tasted for the first time after years of sordid oppression it goes to the head. Moreover, the Frenchwoman has the most extraordinary faculty for “managing.” The poorest in Paris would draw their skirts away from the slatterns and their dirty offspring in our own tenement districts.
One day I went with Madame Paul Dupuy over to what she assured me was one of the poorest districts of Paris. Our visit had nothing to do with the war. She belonged to a charitable organization which for years had paid weekly visits to the different parishes of the capital and weighed a certain number of babies. The mothers that brought their howling offspring (who abominated the whole performance) were given money according to their needs—vouched for by the priest of the district—and if the babies showed a falling off in weight they were sent to one of the doctors retained by the society.
The little stone house (situated, by the way, in an old garden of a hunting-lodge which is said to have been the rendezvous de chasse of Madame du Barry), where Madame Dupuy worked, with an apron covering her gown and her sleeves rolled up, was like an ice-box, and the naked babies when laid on the scales shrieked like demons. One male child, I remember, sat up perfectly straight and bellowed his protest with an insistent fury and a snorting disdain at all attempts to placate him that betokened the true son of France and a lusty long-distance recruit for the army. All the children, in fact, although their mothers were unmistakably poor, looked remarkably plump and healthy.
After a time, having no desire to contract peritonitis, I left the little house and went out and sat in the car. There I watched for nearly an hour the life of what we would call a slum. The hour was about four in the afternoon, when even the poor have a little leisure. The street was filled with women sauntering up and down, gossiping, and followed by their young. These women and children may have had on no underclothes: their secrets were not revealed to me; but their outer garments were decent. The children had a scrubbed look and their hair was confined in tight pigtails. The women looked stout and comfortable.
They may be as clean to-day but I doubt if they are as stout and as placid of expression. The winter was long and bitter and coal and food scarce, scarcer, and more scarce.
The two classes of women with whom Madame Goujon and her friends have most difficulty are in the minority and merely serve as the shadows in the great canvas crowded with heroic figures of French women of all classes who are working to the limit of their strength for their country or their families. They may be difficult to manage and they may insist upon working at what suits their taste, but they do work and work hard; which after all is the point. Madame Goujon took me through several of the ouvroirs which her society had founded to teach the poor widows—whose pension is far inferior to the often brief allocation—a number of new occupations under competent teachers.
Certainly these young benefactors had exercised all their ingenuity. Some of the women, of course, had been fit for nothing but manual labor, and these they had placed as scrub-women in hospitals or as servants in hôtels or families. But in the case of the more intelligent or deft of finger no pains were being spared to fit them to take a good position, or, as the French would say, “situation,” in the future life of the Republic.
In a series of rooms lent to the society by one of the great dressmakers, I saw keen-looking women of all ages learning to retouch photographs, to wind bobbins by electricity, to dress hair and fashion wigs, to engrave music scores, articulate artificial limbs, make artificial flowers, braces for wounded arms and legs, and artificial teeth! Others are taught nursing, bookkeeping, stenography, dentistry.
One of Madame Goujon’s most picturesque revivals is the dressing of dolls. Before the Franco-Prussian war this great industry belonged to France. Germany took it away from France while she was prostrate, monopolizing the doll trade of the world, and the industry almost ceased at its ancient focus. Madame Goujon was one of the first to see the opportunity for revival in France, and with Valentine Thompson and Madame Vérone, to mention but two of her rivals, was soon employing hundreds of women. A large room on the ground floor of M. Reinach’s hotel is given over as a storeroom for dolls, all irreproachably dressed and indisputably French.
It will take a year or two of practice and the co-operation of male talent after the war to bring the French doll up to the high standard attained by the Germans throughout forty years of plodding efficiency. The prettiest dolls I saw were those arrayed in the different national costumes of Europe, particularly those that still retain the styles of musical comedy. After those rank the Red Cross nurses, particularly those that wear the blue veil over the white. And I never saw in real life such superb, such imperturbable brides.
Another work in which Madame Goujon is interested and which certainly is as picturesque is Le Bon Gite. The gardens of the Tuilleries when regarded from the quay present an odd appearance these days. One sees row after row of little huts, models of the huts the English Society of Friends have built in the devastated valley of the Marne. Where hundreds of families were formerly living in damp cellars or in the ruins of large buildings, wherever they could find a sheltering wall, the children dying of exposure, there are now a great number of these portable huts where families may be dry and protected from the elements, albeit somewhat crowded.
The object of Le Bon Gite is to furnish these little temporary homes—for real houses cannot be built until the men come back from the war—and these models in the Tuilleries Gardens show to the visitor what they can do in the way of furnishing a home that will accommodate a woman and two children, for three hundred francs (sixty dollars).
It seems incredible, but I saw the equipment of several of these little shelters (which contain several rooms) and I saw the bills. They contained a bed, two chairs, a table, a buffet, a stove, kitchen furnishings, blankets, linen, and crockery. There were even window curtains. The railway authorities had reduced freight rates for their benefit fifty per cent; and at that time (July, 1916) they had rescued the poor of four wrecked villages from reeking cellars and filthy straw and given some poor poilus a home to come to during their six days’ leave of absence from the Front.
The Marquise de Ganay and the Comtesse de Bryas, two of the most active members, are on duty in the offices of their neat little exhibition for several hours every day, and it was becoming one of the cheerful sights of Paris.
There is little left of the Tuilleries to-day to recall the ornate splendors of the Second Empire, when the Empress Eugenie held her court there, and gave garden parties under the oaks and the chestnuts. There is a vast chasm between the pomp of courts and huts furnished for three hundred francs for the miserable victims of the war; but that chasm, to be sure, was bridged by the Commune and this war has shown those that have visited the Military Zone that a palace makes a no more picturesque ruin than a village.
A more curious contrast was a concert given one afternoon in the Tuilleries Gardens for the purpose of raising money for one of the war relief organizations. Madame Paul Dupuy asked me if I would help her take two blind soldiers to listen to it. We drove first out to Reuilly to the Quinze Vingts, a large establishment where the Government has established hundreds of their war blind (who are being taught a score of new trades), and took the two young fellows who were passed out to us. The youngest was twenty-one, a flat-faced peasant boy, whose eyes had been destroyed by the explosion of a pistol close to his face. The older man, who may have been twenty-six, had a fine, thin, dark face and an expression of fixed melancholy. He had lost his sight from shock. Both used canes and when we left the car at the entrance to the Tuilleries we were obliged to guide them.
The garden was a strange assortment of fashionable women, many of them bearing the highest titles in France, and poilus in their faded uniforms, nearly all maimed—réformés, mutilés! The younger of our charges laughed uproariously, with the other boys, at the comic song, but my melancholy charge never smiled, and later when, under the thawing influence of tea, he told us his story, I was not surprised.
He had been the proprietor before the war of a little business in the North, prosperous and happy in his little family of a wife and two children. His mother was dead but his father and sister lived close by. War came and he left for the Front confident that his wife would run the business. It was only a few months later that he heard his wife had run away with another man, that the shop was abandoned, and the children had taken refuge with his father.
Then came the next blow. His sister died of successive shocks and his father was paralyzed. Then he lost his sight. His children were living anyhow with neighbors in the half ruined village, and he was learning to make brushes.
So much for the man’s tragedy in war time. It is said that as time goes on there are more of them. On the other hand, during the first year, when the men were not allowed to go home, they formed abiding connections with women in the rear of the army, and when the six days’ leave was granted preferred to take these ladies on a little jaunt than return to the old drab existence at home.
These are what may be called the by-products of war, but they may exercise a serious influence on a nation’s future. When the hundreds of children born in the North of France, who are half English, or half Scotch, or half Irish, or half German, or half Indian, or half Moroccan, grow up and begin to drift about and mingle with the general life of the nation, the result may be that we shall have been the last generation to see a race that however diversified was reasonably proud of its purity.
I had gone to Lyons to see the war relief work of that flourishing city and Madame Goujon went South at the same time to visit her husband’s people. We agreed to meet in the little town of Bourg la Bresse, known to the casual tourist for its church erected in the sixteenth century by Margaret of Austria and famous for the carvings on its tombs.
Otherwise it is a picturesque enlarged village with a meandering stream that serves as an excuse for fine bridges; high-walled gardens, ancient trees, and many quaint old buildings.
Not that I saw anything in detail. The Mayor, M. Loiseau, and Madame Goujon met me at the station, and my ride to the various hospitals must have resembled the triumphal progress of chariots in ancient Rome. The population leaped right and left, the children even scrambling up the walls as we flew through the narrow winding streets. It was apparent that the limited population of Bourg did not in the least mind being scattered by their Mayor, for the children shrieked with delight, and although you see few smiles in the provinces of France these days, and far more mourning than in Paris, at least we encountered no frowns.
The heroine of Bourg is Madame Dugas. Once more to repeat history: Before the war Madame Dugas, being a woman of fashion and large wealth, lived the usual life of her class. She had a château near Bourg for the autumn months: hunting and shooting before 1914 were as much the fashion on the large estates of France as in England. She had a villa on the Rivera, a hôtel in Paris, and a cottage at Dinard. But as soon as war broke out all these establishments were either closed or placed at the disposal of the Government. She cleaned out a large hotel in Bourg and installed as many beds as it was possible to buy at the moment. Then she sent word that she was ready to accommodate a certain number of wounded and asked for nurses and surgeons.
The Government promptly took advantage of her generous offer, and her hospital was so quickly filled with wounded men that she was obliged to take over and furnish another large building. This soon overflowing as well as the military hospitals of the district, she looked about in vain for another house large enough to make extensive installations worth while.
During all those terrible months of the war, when the wounded arrived in Bourg by every train, and household after household put on its crêpe, there was one great establishment behind its lofty walls that took no more note of the war than if the newspapers that never passed its iron gates were giving daily extracts from ancient history. This was the Convent de la Visitation. Its pious nuns had taken the vow never to look upon the face of man. If, as they paced under the great oaks of their close, or the stately length of their cloisters telling their beads, or meditating on the negation of earthly existence and the perfect joys of the future, they heard an echo of the conflict that was shaking Europe, it was only to utter a prayer that the souls of those who had obeyed the call of their country and fallen gloriously as Frenchmen should rest in peace. Not for a moment did the idea cross their gentle minds that any mortal force short of invasion by the enemy could bring them into contact with it.
But that force was already in possession of Bourg. Madame Dugas was a woman of endless resource. Like many another woman in this war the moment her executive faculties, long dormant, were stirred, that moment they began to develop like the police microbes in fevered veins.
She had visited that convent. She knew that its great walls sheltered long rooms and many of them. It would make an ideal hospital and she determined that a hospital it should be.
There was but one recourse. The Pope. Would she dare? People wondered. She did. The Pope, who knew that wounded men cannot wait, granted the holy nuns a temporary dispensation from their vows; and when I walked through the beautiful Convent of the Visitation with Madame Dugas, Madame Goujon, and M. Loiseau, there were soldiers under every tree and nuns were reading to them.
Nuns were also nursing those still in the wards, for nurses are none too plentiful in France even yet, and Madame Dugas had stipulated for the nuns as well as for the convent.
It was a southern summer day. The grass was green. The ancient trees were heavy with leaves. Younger and more graceful trees drooped from the terrace above a high wall in the rear. The sky was blue. The officers, the soldiers, looked happy, the nuns placid. It was an oasis in the desert of war.
I leave obvious ruminations to the reader.
When I met Madame Dugas, once more I wondered if all Frenchwomen who were serving or sorrowing were really beautiful or if it were but one more instance of the triumph of clothes. Madame Dugas is an infirmière major, and over her white linen veil flowed one of bright blue, transparent and fine. She wore the usual white linen uniform with the red cross on her breast, but back from her shoulders as she walked through the streets with us streamed a long dark blue cloak. She is a very tall, very slender woman, with a proud and lofty head, a profile of that almost attenuated thinness that one sees only on a Frenchwoman, and only then when the centuries have done the chiseling. As we walked down those long, narrow, twisted streets of Bourg between the high walls with the trees sweeping over the coping, she seemed to me the most strikingly beautiful woman I had ever seen. But whether I shall still think so if I see her one of these days in a Paris ballroom I have not the least idea.
Madame Dugas runs three hospitals at her own expense and is her own committee. Like the rest of the world she expected the war to last three months, and like the rest of her countrywomen who immediately offered their services to the state she has no intention of resigning until what is left of the armies are in barracks once more. She lives in a charming old house in Bourg, roomy and well furnished and with a wild and classic garden below the terrace at the back. (Some day I shall write a story about that house and garden.) Here she rests when she may, and here she gave us tea.
One wonders if these devoted Frenchwomen will have anything left of their fortunes if the war continues a few years longer. Madame Dugas made no complaint, but as an example of the increase in her necessary expenditures since 1914 she mentioned the steadily rising price of chickens. They had cost two francs at the beginning of the war and were now ten. I assumed that she gave her grands blessés chicken broth, which is more than they get in most hospitals.
Many of the girls who had danced in her salons two years before, and even their younger sisters, who had had no chance to “come out,” are helping Madame Dugas, both as nurses and in many practical ways; washing and doing other work of menials as cheerfully as they ever played tennis or rode in la chasse.
Curiously enough, the next woman whose work has made her notable, that Madame Goujon took me to see, was very much like Madame Dugas in appearance, certainly of the same type.
Val de Grace is the oldest military hospital in Paris. It covers several acres and was begun by Louis XIII and finished by Napoleon. Before the war it was run entirely by men, but one by one or group by group these men, all reservists, were called out and it became a serious problem how to keep it up to its standard. Of course women were all very well as nurses, but it took strong men and many of them to cook for thousands of wounded, and there was the problem of keeping the immense establishment of many buildings well swept and generally clean. But the men had to go, réformés were not strong enough for the work, every bed was occupied—one entire building by tuberculars—and they must both eat and suffer in sanitary conditions.
Once more they were obliged to have recourse to Woman.
Madame Olivier, like Madame Dugas a dame du monde and an infirmière major, went to one of the hospitals at the Front on the day war broke out, nursed under fire, of course, but displayed so much original executive ability as well as willingness to do anything to help, no matter what, that she was soon put in charge of the wounded on trains. After many trips, during which she showed her uncommon talent for soothing the wounded, making them comfortable even when they were packed like sardines on the floor, and bringing always some sort of order out of the chaos of those first days, she was invited to take hold of the problem of Val de Grace.
She had solved it when I paid my visit with Madame Goujon. She not only had replaced all the men nurses and attendants with women but was training others and sending them off to military hospitals suffering from the same sudden depletions as Val de Grace. She also told me that three women do the work of six men formerly employed, and that they finished before ten in the morning, whereas the men never finished. The hospital when she arrived had been in a condition such as men might tolerate but certainly no woman. I walked through its weary miles (barring the tuberculosis wards) and I never saw a hospital look more sanitarily span.
But the kitchen was the show place of Val de Grace, little as the women hard at work suspected it. Where Madame Olivier found those giantesses I cannot imagine; certainly not in a day. She must have sifted France for them. They looked like peasant women and no doubt they were. Only the soil could produce such powerful cart-horse females. And only such cart-horses could have cooked in the great kitchen of Val de Grace. On a high range that ran the length of the room were copper pots as large as vats, full of stew, and these the Brobdinagians stirred with wooden implements that appeared to my shattered senses as large as spades. No doubt they were of inferior dimensions, but even so they were formidable. How those women stirred and stirred those steaming messes! I never shall forget it. And they could also move those huge pots about, those terrible females. I thought of the French Revolution.
Madame Olivier, ruling all this force, giantesses included, with a rod of iron, stood there in the entrance of the immaculate kitchen looking dainty and out of place, with her thin proud profile, her clear dark skin, beautifully tinted in the cheeks, her seductive infirmière uniform. But she has accomplished one of the minor miracles of the war.
I wonder if all these remarkable women of France will be decorated one of these days? They have earned the highest citations, but perhaps they have merely done their duty as Frenchwomen. C’est la guerre.
Fortunate are those women who not only are able to take care of themselves but of their dependents during this long period of financial depression; still more fortunate are those who, either wealthy or merely independent, are able both to stand between the great mass of unfortunates and starvation and to serve their country in old ways and new.
More fortunate still are the few who, having made for themselves by their talents and energy a position of leadership before the war, were immediately able to carry their patriotic plans into effect.
In March, 1914, Mlle. Valentine Thompson, already known as one of the most active of the younger feminists, and distinctly the most brilliant, established a weekly newspaper which she called La Vie Feminine. The little journal had a twofold purpose: to offer every sort of news and encouragement to the by-no-means-flourishing party and to give advice, assistance, and situations to women out of work.
Mlle. Thompson’s father at the moment was in the Cabinet, holding the portfolio of Ministre du Commerce. Her forefathers on either side had for generations been in public life. She and her grandmother had both won a position with their pen and therefore moved not only in the best political but the best literary society of Paris. Moreover Mlle. Thompson had a special penchant for Americans and knew more or less intimately all of any importance who lived in Paris or visited it regularly. Mrs. Tuck, the wealthiest American living in France—it has been her home for thirty years and she and her husband have spent a fortune on charities—was one of her closest friends. All Americans who went to Paris with any higher purpose than buying clothes or entertaining duchesses at the Ritz, took letters to her. Moreover, she is by common consent, and without the aid of widow’s bonnet or Red Cross uniform, one of the handsomest women in Paris. She is of the Amazon type, with dark eyes and hair, a fine complexion, regular features, any expression she chooses to put on, and she is always the well-dressed Parisienne in detail as well as in effect. Her carriage is haughty and dashing, her volubility racial, her enthusiasm, while it lasts, bears down every obstacle, and her nature is imperious. She must hold the center of the stage and the reins of power. I should say that she was the most ambitious woman in France.
She is certainly one of its towering personalities and if she does not stand out at the end of the war as Woman and Her Achievements personified it will be because she has the defects of her genius. Her restless ambition and her driving energy hurl her headlong into one great relief work after another, until she has undertaken more than any mere mortal can carry through in any given space of time. She is therefore in danger of standing for no one monumental work (as will be the happy destiny of Mlle. Javal, for instance), although no woman’s activities or sacrifices will have been greater.
It may be imagined that such a woman when she started a newspaper would be in a position to induce half the prominent men and women in France either to write for it or to give interviews, and this she did, of course; she has a magnificent publicity sense. The early numbers of La Vie Feminine were almost choked with names known to “tout Paris.” It flourished in both branches, and splendid offices were opened on the Avenue des Champs Elysées. Women came for advice and employment and found both, for Mlle. Thompson is as sincere in her desire to help the less fortunate of her sex as she is in her feminism.
Then came the War.
Mlle. Thompson’s plans were formed in a day, her Committees almost as quickly. La Vie Feminine opened no less than seven ouvroirs, where five hundred women were given work. When the refugees began pouring in she was among the first to ladle out soup and deplete her wardrobe. She even went to the hastily formed hospitals in Paris and offered her services. As she was not a nurse she was obliged to do the most menial work, which not infrequently consisted in washing the filthy poilus wounded after weeks of fighting without a bath or change of clothing. Sometimes the dirt-caked soldiers were natives of Algiers. But she performed her task with her accustomed energy and thoroughness, and no doubt the mere sight of her was a God-send to those men who had for so long looked upon nothing but blood and death and horrors.
Then came the sound of the German guns thirty kilometers from Paris. The Government decided to go to Bordeaux. Mlle. Thompson’s father insisted that his daughter accompany himself and her mother. At first she refused. What should she do with the five hundred women in her ouvroirs, the refugees she fed daily? She appealed to Ambassador Herrick. But our distinguished representative shook his head. He had trouble enough on his hands. The more beautiful young women who removed themselves from Paris before the Boche entered it the simpler would be the task of the men forced to remain. It was serious enough that her even more beautiful sister had elected to remain with her husband, whose duties forbade him to flee. Go, Mademoiselle, and go quickly.
Mlle. Thompson yielded but she made no precipitate flight. Collecting the most influential and generous members of her Committees, she raised the sum needed for a special train of forty cars. Into this she piled the five hundred women of her ouvroirs and their children, a large number of refugees, and an orphan asylum—one thousand in all. When it had steamed out of Paris and was unmistakably on its way to the South she followed. But not to sit fuming in Bordeaux waiting for General Joffre to settle the fate of Paris. She spent the three or four weeks of her exile in finding homes or situations for her thousand helpless charges, in Blanquefort, Lourdes, Bayonne, Marseilles, Bordeaux and other southern cities and small towns, forming in each a Committee to look out for them.
Soon after her return to Paris she conceived and put into operation the idea of an École Hôtelière.
Thousands of Germans and Austrians, employed as waiters or in other capacities about the hotels, either had slunk out of Paris just before war was declared or were interned. Even the Swiss had been recalled to protect their frontiers. The great hotels supplied the vacancies with men hastily invited from neutral countries, very green and very exorbitant in their demands. Hundreds of the smaller hotels were obliged to close, although the smallest were, as ever, run by the wife of the proprietor, and her daughters when old enough.
But that was only half of the problem. After the war all these hotels must open to accommodate the tourists who would flock to Europe. The Swiss of course could be relied upon to take the first train to Paris after peace was declared, but the Germans and Austrians had been as thick in France as flies on a battlefield, and it will be a generation before either will fatten on Latin credulity again. Even if the people of the Central Powers revolt and set up a republic it will be long before the French, who are anything but volatile in their essence, will be able to look at a Boche without wanting to spit on him or to kick him out of the way as one would a vicious cur.
To Mlle. Thompson, although men fall at her feet, the answer to every problem is Woman.
She formed another powerful Committee, roused the enthusiasm of the Touring Club de France, rented a dilapidated villa in Passy, and after enlisting the practical sympathies of furnishers, decorators, “magazins,” and persons generally whose business it is to make a house comfortable and beautiful, she advertised not only in the Paris but in all the provincial newspapers for young women of good family whose marriage prospects had been ruined by the war and who would wish to fit themselves scientifically for the business of hotel keeping. Each should be educated in every department from directrice to scullion.
The answers were so numerous that she was forced to deny many whose lovers had been killed or whose parents no longer could hope to provide them with the indispensable dot. The repairs and installations of the villa having been rushed, it was in running order and its dormitories were filled by some thirty young women in an incredibly short time. Mlle. Jacquier, who had presided over a somewhat similar school in Switzerland, was installed as directrice.
Each girl, in addition to irreproachable recommendations and the written consent of her parents, must pay seventy francs a month, bring a specified amount of underclothing, etc.; and, whatever her age or education, must, come prepared to submit to the discipline of the school. In return they were to be taught not only how to fill all positions in a hotel, but the scientific principles of domestic economy, properties of food combined with the proportions necessary to health, bookkeeping, English, correspondence, geography, arithmetic—”calcul rapide”—gymnastics, deportment, hygiene.
Moreover, when at the end of the three months’ course they had taken their diplomas, places would be found for them. If they failed to take their diplomas and could not afford another course, still would places, but of an inferior order, be provided. After the first students arrived it became known that an ex-pupil without place and without money could always find a temporary refuge there. Even if she had “gone wrong” she might come and ask for advice and help.
When I arrived in Paris I had two letters to Mlle. Thompson and after I had been there about ten days I went with Mr. Jaccaci to call on her at the offices of La Vie Feminine, and found them both sumptuous and a hive of activities. In the course of the rapid give-and-take conversation—if it can be called that when one sits tight with the grim intention of pinning Mlle. Thompson to one subject long enough to extract definite information from her—we discovered that she had translated one of my books. Neither of us could remember which it was, although I had a dim visualization of the correspondence, but it formed an immediate bond. Moreover—another point I had quite forgotten—when her friend, Madame Leverrière, had visited the United States some time previously to put Mlle. Thompson’s dolls on the market, I had been asked to write something in favor of the work for the New York Times. Madame Leverrière, who was present, informed me enthusiastically that I had helped her énormément, and there was another bond.
The immediate consequence was that, although I could get little that was coherent from Mlle. Thompson’s torrent of classic French, I was invited to be an inmate of the École Hôtelière at Passy. I had mentioned that although I was comfortable at the luxurious Hôtel de Crillon, still when I went upstairs and closed my door I was in the atmosphere of two years ago. And I must have constant atmosphere, for my time was limited. I abominated pensions, and from what I had heard of French families who took in a “paying guest,” or, in their tongue, dame pensionnaire, I had concluded that the total renouncement of atmosphere was the lesser evil.
Would I go out and see the École Feminine? I would. It sounded interesting and a visit committed me to nothing. Mlle. Thompson put it charmingly. I should be conferring a favor. There was a guest chamber and no guest for the pupils to practice on. And it would be an honor, etc.
We drove out to Passy and I found the École Feminine in the Boulevard Beauséjour all and more than Mlle. Thompson had taken the time to portray in detail. The entrance was at the side of the house and one approached it through a large gateway which led to a cul-de-sac lined with villas and filled with beautiful old trees that enchanted my eye. I cursed those trees later but at the moment they almost decided me before I entered the house.
The interior, having been done by enthusiastic admirers of Mlle. Thompson, was not only fresh and modern but artistic and striking. The salon was paneled, but the dining-room had been decorated by Poiret with great sprays and flowers splashed on the walls, picturesque vegetables that had parted with their humility between the garden and the palette. Through a glass partition one saw the shining kitchen with its large modern range, its rows and rows of the most expensive utensils—all donations by the omnifarious army of Mlle. Thompson’s devotees.
Behind the salon was the schoolroom, with its blackboard, its four long tables, its charts for food proportions. All the girls wore blue linen aprons that covered them from head to foot.
I followed Mlle. Thompson up the winding stair and was shown the dormitories, the walls decorated as gaily as if for a bride, but otherwise of a severe if comfortable simplicity. Every cot was as neat as a new hospital’s in the second year of the war, and there was an immense lavatory on each floor.
Then I was shown the quarters destined for me if I would so far condescend, etc. There was quite a large bedroom, with a window looking out over a mass of green, and the high terraces of houses beyond; the garden of a neighbor was just below. There was a very large wardrobe, with shelves that pulled out, and one of those wash-stands where a minute tank is filled every morning (when not forgotten) and the bowl is tipped into a noisy tin just below.
The room was in a little hallway of its own which terminated in a large bathroom with two enormous tubs. Of course the water was heated in a copper boiler situated between the tubs, for although the École Feminine was modern it was not too modern. The point, however, was that I should have my daily bath, and that the entire school would delight in waiting on me.
It did not take me any time whatever to decide. I might not be comfortable but I certainly should be interested. I moved in that day. Mlle. Thompson’s original invitation to be her guest (in return for the small paragraph I had written about the dolls) was not to be entertained for a moment. I wished to feel at liberty to stay as long as I liked; and it was finally agreed that at the end of the week Mlle. Thompson and Mlle. Jacquier should decide upon the price.
I remained something like three months. There were three trolley lines, a train, a cab-stand, a good shopping street within a few steps, the place itself was a haven of rest after my long days in Paris meeting people by the dozen and taking notes of their work, and the cooking was the most varied and the most delicate I have ever eaten anywhere. A famous retired chef had offered his services three times a week for nothing and each girl during her two weeks in the kitchen learned how to prepare eggs in forty different ways, to say nothing of sauces and delicacies that the Ritz itself could not afford. I received the benefit of all the experiments. I could also amuse myself looking through the glass partition at the little master chef, whose services thousands could not command, rushing about the kitchen, waving his arms, tearing his hair, shrieking against the incredible stupidity of young females whom heaven had not endowed with the genius for cooking; and who, no doubt, had never cooked anything at all before they answered the advertisement of Mlle. Thompson. Few that had not belonged to well-to-do families whose heavy work had been done by servants.
A table was given me in a corner by myself and the other tables were occupied by the girls who at the moment were not serving their fortnight in the kitchen or as waitresses. These were treated as ceremoniously (being practiced on) as I was, although their food, substantial and plentiful, was not as choice as mine. I could have had all my meals served in my rooms if I had cared to avail myself of the privilege; but not I! If you take but one letter to Society in France you may, if you stay long enough, and are not personally disagreeable, meet princesses, duchesses, marquises, countesses, by the dozen; but to meet the coldly aloof and suspicious bourgeoisie, who hate the sight of a stranger, particularly the petite bourgeoisie, is more difficult than for a German to explain the sudden lapse of his country into barbarism. Here was a unique opportunity, and I held myself to be very fortunate.
Was I comfortable? Judged by the American standard, certainly not. My bed was soft enough, and my breakfast was brought to me at whatever hour I rang for it. But, as was the case all over Paris, the central heat had ceased abruptly on its specified date and I nearly froze. During the late afternoon and evenings all through May and the greater part of June I sat wrapped in my traveling cloak and went to bed as soon as the evening ceremonies of my two fortnightly attendants were over. I might as well have tried to interrupt the advance of a German taube as to interfere with any of Mlle. Jacquier’s orthodoxies.
Moreover four girls, with great chattering, invariably prepared my bath—which circumstances decided me to take at night—and I had to wait until all their confidences—exchanged as they sat in a row on the edge of the two tubs—were over. Then something happened to the boiler, and as all the plumbers were in the trenches, and ubiquitous woman seemed to have stopped short in her new accomplishments at mending pipes, I had to wait until a permissionnaire came home on his six days’ leave, and that was for five weeks. More than once I decided to go back to the Crillon, where the bathrooms are the last cry in luxury, for I detest the makeshift bath, but by this time I was too fascinated by the École to tear myself away.
Naturally out of thirty girls there were some antagonistic personalities, and two or three I took such an intense dislike to that I finally prevailed upon Mlle. Jacquier to keep them out of my room and away from my table. But the majority of the students were “regular girls.” At first I was as welcome in the dining-room as a Prussian sentinel, and they exchanged desultory remarks in whispers; but after a while they grew accustomed to me and chattered like magpies. I could hear them again in their dormitories until about half-past ten at night. Mlle. Jacquier asked me once with some anxiety if I minded, and I assured her that I liked it. This was quite true, for these girls, all so eager and natural, and even gay, despite the tragedy in the background of many, seemed to me the brightest spot in Paris.
It is true that I remonstrated, and frequently, against the terrific noise they made every morning at seven o’clock when they clamped across the uncarpeted hall and down the stairs. But although they would tiptoe for a day they would forget again, and I finally resigned myself. I also did my share in training them to wait on a guest in her room! Not one when I arrived had anything more than a theoretical idea of what to do beyond making a bed, sweeping, and dusting. I soon discovered that the more exacting I was—and there were times when I was exceeding stormy—the better Mlle. Jacquier was pleased.
She had her hands full. Her discipline was superb and she addressed each with invariable formality as “Mademoiselle——”; but they were real girls, full of vitality, and always on the edge of rebellion. I listened to some stinging rebukes delivered by Mlle. Jacquier when she would arise in her wrath in the dining-room and address them collectively. She knew how to get under their skin, for they would blush, hang their heads, and writhe.
But Mlle. Jacquier told me that what really kept them in order was the influence of Mlle. Thompson. At first she came every week late in the afternoon to give them a talk; then every fortnight; then—oh là! là!
I listened to one or two of these talks. The girls sat in a semicircle, hardly breathing, their eyes filling with tears whenever Mlle. Thompson, who sat at a table at the head of the room, played on that particular key.
I never thought Valentine Thompson more remarkable than during this hour dedicated to the tuning and exalting of the souls of these girls. Several told me that she held their hearts in her hands when she talked and that they would follow her straight to the battlefield. She, herself, assumed her most serious and exalted expression. I have never heard any one use more exquisite French. Not for a moment did she talk down to those girls of a humbler sphere. She lifted them to her own. Her voice took on deeper tones, but she always stopped short of being dramatic. French people of all classes are too keen and clear-sighted and intelligent to be taken in by theatrical tricks, and Mlle. Thompson made no mistakes. Her only mistake was in neglecting these girls later on for other new enterprises that claimed her ardent imagination.
She talked, I remember, of patriotism, of morale, of their duty to excel in their present studies that they might be of service not only to their impoverished families but to their beloved France. It was not so much what she said as the lovely way in which she said it, her impressive manner and appearance, her almost overwhelming but, for the occasion, wholly democratic personality.
Once a week Mlle. Thompson and the heads of the Touring Club de France had a breakfast at the École and tables were laid even in the salon. I was always somebody’s guest upon these Tuesdays, unless I was engaged elsewhere, and had, moreover, been for years a member of the Touring Club. Some of the most distinguished men and women of Paris came to the breakfasts: statesmen, journalists, authors, artists, people of le beau monde, visiting English and Americans as well as French people of note. Naturally the students became expert waitresses and chasseurs as well as cooks.
Altogether I should have only the pleasantest memories of the École Feminine had it not been for the mosquitoes. I do not believe that New Jersey ever had a worse record than Paris that summer. Every leaf of every one of those beautiful trees beyond my window, over whose tops I used to gaze at the airplanes darting about on the lookout for taubes, was an incubator. I exhausted the resources of two chemist shops in Passy and one in Paris. I tried every invention, went to bed reeking with turpentine, and burned evil-smelling pastiles. Mlle. Jacquier came in every night and slew a dozen with a towel as scientifically as she did everything else. All of no avail. At one time I was so spotted that I had to wear a still more heavily spotted veil. I looked as if afflicted with measles.
Oddly enough the prettiest of the students, whose first name was Alice, was the only one of us all ignored by the mosquitoes. She had red-gold hair and a pink and white skin of great delicacy, and she might have been the twin of Elsie Ferguson. A few of the other girls were passably good-looking but she was the only one with anything like beauty—which, it would seem, is practically confined to the noblesse and grande bourgeoisie in France. Next to her in looks came Mlle. Jacquier, who if she had a dot would have been snapped up long since.
Alice had had two fiancés (selected by her mother) and both young officers; one, an Englishman, had been killed in the first year of the war. She was only eighteen. At one time the northern town she lived in was threatened by the Germans, and Mrs. Vail of Boston (whose daughter is so prominent at the American Fund for French Wounded headquarters in Paris), being on the spot and knowing how much there would be left of the wildrose innocence that bloomed visibly on Alice’s plump cheeks, whisked her off to London. There she remained until she heard of Mlle. Thompson’s School, when Mrs. Vail brought her to Paris. As she was not only pretty and charming but intelligent, I exerted myself to find her a place before I left, and I believe she is still with Mrs. Thayer in the Hotel Cecilia.
The École Féminine, I am told, is no more. Mlle. Thompson found it impossible to raise the necessary money to keep it going. The truth is, I fancy, that she approached generous donators for too many different objects and too many times. Perhaps the École will be reopened later on. If not it will always be a matter of regret not only for France but for Valentine Thompson’s own sake that she did not concentrate on this useful enterprise; it would have been a definite monument in the center of her shifting activities.
I have no space to give even a list of her manifold oeuvres, but one at least bids fair to be associated permanently with her name. What is now known in the United States as the French Heroes’ Fund was started by Mlle. Thompson under the auspices of La Vie Féminine to help the réformés rebuild their lives. The greater number could not work at their old avocations, being minus an arm or a leg. But they learned to make toys and many useful articles, and worked at home; in good weather, sitting before their doors in the quiet village street. A vast number of these Mlle. Thompson and various members of her Committee located, tabulated, encouraged; and, once a fortnight, collected their work. This was either sold in Paris or sent to America.
In New York Mrs. William Astor Chanler and Mr. John Moffat organized the work under its present title and raised the money to buy Lafayette’s birthplace. They got it at a great bargain, $20,000; for a large number of acres were included in the purchase. Another $20,000, also raised by Mr. Moffatt, repaired and furnished the château, which not only is to be a sort of French Mt. Vernon, with rooms dedicated to relics of Lafayette and the present war, as well as a memorial room for the American heroes who have fallen for France, but an orphanage is to be built in the grounds, and the repairs as well as all the other work is to be done by the blind and the mutilated, who will thus not be objects of charity but made to feel themselves men once more and able to support their families. The land will be rented to the réformés, the mutilés and the blind.
Mlle. Thompson and Mrs. Chanler, with the help of a powerful Committee, are pushing this work forward as rapidly as possible in the circumstances and no doubt it will be one of the first war meccas of the American tourists so long separated from their beloved Europe.
The most insistent memory of my life in Passy at the Hôtel Féminine is the Battle of the Somme. After it commenced in July I heard the great guns day and night for a week. That deep, steady, portentous booming had begun to exert a morbid fascination before the advance carried the cannon out of my range, and I had an almost irresistible desire to pack up and follow it. The ancestral response to the old god of war is more persistent than any of us imagine, I fancy. I was close to the lines some weeks later, when I went into the Zone des Armées, and it is quite positive that not only does that dreary and dangerous region exert a sinister fascination but that it seems to expel fear from your composition. It is as if for the first time you were in the normal condition of life, which during the centuries of the ancestors to whom you owe your brain-cells, was war, not peace.
One has learned to associate Madame Waddington so intimately with the glittering surface life of Europe that although every one knows she was born in New York of historic parentage, one recalls with something of a shock now and then that she was not only educated in this country but did not go to France to live until after the death of her father in 1871.
This no doubt accounts for the fact that meeting her for the first time one finds her unmistakably an American woman. Her language may be French but she has a directness and simplicity that no more identifies her with a European woman of any class than with the well-known exigencies of diplomacy. Madame Waddington strikes one as quite remarkably fearless and downright; she appears to be as outspoken as she is vivacious; and as her husband had a highly successful career as a diplomatist, and as his debt to his brilliant wife is freely conceded, Madame Waddington is certainly a notable instance of the gay persistence of an intelligent American woman’s personality, combined with the proper proportion of acuteness, quickness, and charm which force a highly conventionalized and specialized society to take her on her own terms. The greater number of diplomatic women as well as ladies-in-waiting that I have run across during my European or Washington episodes have about as much personality as a door-mat. Many of our own women have been admirable helpmates to our ambassadors, but I recall none that has played a great personal rôle in the world. Not a few have contributed to the gaiety of nations.
Madame Waddington has had four separate careers quite aside from the always outstanding career of girlhood. Her father was Charles King, President of Columbia College and son of Rufus King, second United States Minister to England. When she married M. Waddington, a Frenchman of English descent, and educated at Rugby and Cambridge, he was just entering public life. His château was in the Department of the Aisne and he was sent from there to the National Assembly. Two years later he was appointed Minister of Public Instruction, and in January, 1876, he was elected Senator from the Aisne. In December of the following year he once more entered the Cabinet as Minister of Public Instruction, later accepting the portfolio for Foreign Affairs.
During this period, of course, Madame Waddington lived the brilliant social and political life of the capital. M. Waddington began his diplomatic career in 1878 as the first Plenipotentiary of France to the Congress of Berlin. In 1883 he was sent as Ambassador Extraordinary to represent France at the coronation of Alexander III; and it was then that Madame Waddington began to send history through the diplomatic pouch, and sow the seeds of that post-career which comes to so few widows of public men.
Madame Waddington’s letters from Russia, and later from England where her husband was Ambassador from 1883 to 1893 are now so famous, being probably in every private library of any pretensions, that it would be a waste of space to give an extended notice of them in a book which has nothing whatever to do with the achievements of its heroines in art and letters in that vast almost-forgotten period, Before the War. Suffice it to say that they are among the most delightful epistolary contributions to modern literature, the more so perhaps as they were written without a thought of future publication. But being a born woman of letters, every line she writes has the elusive qualities of style and charm; and she has besides the selective gift of putting down on paper even to her own family only what is worth recording.
When these letters were published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1902, eight years after M. Waddington’s death, they gave her an instant position in the world of letters, which must have consoled her for the loss of that glittering diplomatic life she had enjoyed for so many years.
Not that Madame Waddington had ever dropped out of society, except during the inevitable period of mourning. In Paris up to the outbreak of the war she was always in demand, particularly in diplomatic circles, by far the most interesting and kaleidoscopic in the European capitals. I was told that she never paid a visit to England without finding an invitation from the King and Queen at her hotel, as well as a peck of other invitations.
I do not think Madame Waddington has ever been wealthy in our sense of the word. But, as I said before, her career is a striking example of that most precious of all gifts, personality. And if she lives until ninety she will always be in social demand, for she is what is known as “good company.” She listens to you but you would far rather listen to her. Unlike many women of distinguished pasts she lives in hers very little. It is difficult to induce the reminiscent mood. She lives intensely in the present and her mind works insatiably upon everything in current life that is worth while.
She has no vanity. Unlike many ladies of her age and degree in Paris she does not wear a red-brown wig, but her own abundant hair, as soft and white as cotton and not a “gray” hair in it. She is now too much absorbed in the war to waste time at her dressmakers or even to care whether her placket-hole is open or not. I doubt if she ever did care much about dress or “keeping young,” for those are instincts that sleep only in the grave. War or no war they are as much a part of the daily habit as the morning bath. I saw abundant evidence of this immortal fact in Paris during the second summer of the war.
Nevertheless, the moment Madame Waddington enters a room she seems to charge it with electricity. You see no one else and you are impatient when others insist upon talking. Vitality, an immense intelligence without arrogance or self-conceit, a courtesy which has no relation to diplomatic caution, a kindly tact and an unmistakable integrity, combine to make Madame Waddington one of the most popular women in Europe.
This brings me to Madame Waddington’s fourth career. The war which has lifted so many people out of obscurity, rejuvenated a few dying talents, and given thousands their first opportunity to be useful, simply overwhelmed Madame Waddington with hard work and a multitude of new duties. If she had indulged in dreams of spending the rest of her days in the peaceful paths of literature when not dining out, they were rudely dissipated on August 1st, 1914.
Madame Waddington opened the Ouvroir Holophane on the 15th of August, her first object being to give employment and so countercheck the double menace of starvation and haunted idleness for at least fifty poor women: teachers, music-mistresses, seamstresses, lace makers, women of all ages and conditions abruptly thrown out of work.
Madame Waddington, speaking of them, said: “We had such piteous cases of perfectly well-dressed, well-educated, gently-bred women that we hardly dared offer them the one-franc-fifty and ‘gouter’ (bowl of café-au-lait with bread and butter), which was all we were able to give for four hours’ work in the afternoon.”
However, those poor women were very thankful for the work and sewed faithfully on sleeping-suits and underclothing for poilus in the trenches and hospitals. Madame Waddington’s friends in America responded to her call for help and M. Mygatt gave her rooms on the ground floor of his building in the Boulevard Haussmann.
When the Germans were rushing on Paris and invasion seemed as inevitable as the horrors that were bound to follow, Mr. Herrick insisted that Madame Waddington and her sister Miss King, who was almost helpless from rheumatism, follow the Government to the South. This Madame Waddington reluctantly did, but returned immediately after the Battle of the Marne.
It was not long before the Ouvroir Holophane outgrew its original proportions, and instead of the women coming there daily to sew, they called only for materials to make up at home. For this ouvroir (if it has managed to exist in these days of decreasing donations) sends to the Front garments of all sorts for soldiers ill or well, pillow-cases, sheets, sleeping-bags, slippers.
Moreover, as soon as the men began to come home on their six days’ leave they found their way to the generous ouvroir on the Boulevard Haussmann, where Madame Waddington, or her friend Mrs. Greene (also an American), or Madame Mygatt, always gave the poor men what they needed to replace their tattered (or missing) undergarments, as well as coffee and bread and butter.
The most difficult women to employ were those who had been accustomed to make embroidery and lace, as well as many who had led pampered lives in a small way and did not know how to sew at all. But one-franc-fifty stood between them and starvation and they learned. To-day nearly all of the younger women assisted by those first ouvroirs are more profitably employed. France has adjusted itself to a state of war and thousands of women are either in Government service and munition factories, or in the reopened shops and restaurants.
The Waddingtons being the great people of their district were, of course, looked upon by the peasant farmers and villagers as aristocrats of illimitable wealth. Therefore when the full force of the war struck these poor people—they were in the path of the Germans during the advance on Paris, and ruthlessly treated—they looked to Madame Waddington and her daughter, Madame Francis Waddington, to put them on their feet again.
Francis Waddington, to whom the château descended, was in the trenches, but his mother and wife did all they could, as soon as the Germans had been driven back, to relieve the necessities of the dazed and miserable creatures whose farms had been devastated and shops rifled or razed. Some time, by the way, Madame Waddington may tell the dramatic story of her daughter-in-law’s escape. She was alone in the château with her two little boys when the Mayor of the nearest village dashed up with the warning that the Germans were six kilometers away, and the last train was about to leave.
She had two automobiles, but her chauffeur had been mobilized and there was no petrol. She was dressed for dinner, but there was no time to change. She threw on a cloak and thinking of nothing but her children went off with the Mayor in hot haste to catch the train. From that moment on for five or six days, during which time she never took off her high-heeled slippers with their diamond buckles, until she reached her husband in the North, her experience was one of the side dramas of the war.
I think it was early in 1915 that Madame Waddington wrote in Scribner’s Magazine a description of her son’s château as it was after the Germans had evacuated it. But the half was not told. It never can be, in print. Madame Huard, in her book, My Home on the Field of Honor, is franker than most of the current historians have dared to be, and the conditions which she too found when she returned after the German retreat may be regarded as the prototype of the disgraceful and disgusting state in which these lovely country homes of the French were left; not by lawless German soldiers but by officers of the first rank. Madame Francis Waddington did not even run upstairs to snatch her jewel case, and of course she never saw it again. Her dresses had been taken from the wardrobes and slashed from top to hem by the swords of these incomprehensible barbarians. The most valuable books in the library were gutted. But these outrages are almost too mild to mention.
The next task after the city ouvroir was in running order was to teach the countrywomen how to sew for the soldiers and pay them for their work. The region of the Aisne is agricultural where it is not heavily wooded. Few of the women had any skill with the needle. The two Madame Waddingtons concluded to show these poor women with their coarse red hands how to knit until their fingers grew more supple. This they took to very kindly, knitting jerseys and socks; and since those early days both the Paris and country ouvroirs had sent (June, 1916) twenty thousand packages to the soldiers. Each package contained a flannel shirt, drawers, stomach band, waistcoat or jersey, two pairs of socks, two handkerchiefs, a towel, a piece of soap. Any donations of tobacco or rolled cigarettes were also included.
This burden in the country has been augmented heavily by refugees from the invaded districts. Of course they come no more these days, but while I was in Paris they were still pouring down, and as the Waddington estate was often in their line of march they simply camped in the park and in the garage. Of course they had to be clothed, fed, and generally assisted.
As Madame Waddington’s is not one of the picturesque ouvroirs she has found it difficult to keep it going, and no doubt contributes all she can spare of what the war has left of her own income. Moreover, she is on practically every important war relief committee, sometimes as honorary president, for her name carries great weight, often as vice-president or as a member of the “conseil.” After her ouvroirs the most important organization of which she is president is the Comité International de Pansements Chirurgicaux des Etats Unis—in other words, surgical dressings—started by Mrs. Willard, and run actively in Paris by Mrs. Austin, the vice-president. When I visited it they were serving about seven hundred hospitals, and no doubt by this time are supplying twice that number. Two floors of a new apartment house had been put at their disposal near the Bois, and the activity and shining whiteness were the last word in modern proficiency (I shall never use that black-sheep among words, efficiency, again).
One of Madame Waddington’s more personal oeuvres is the amusement she, in company with her daughter-in-law, provides for the poilus in the village near her son’s estate. Regiments are quartered there, either to hold themselves in readiness, or to cut down trees for the army. They wandered about, desolate and bored, until the two Madame Waddingtons furnished a reading-room, provided with letter paper and post-cards, books and, I hope, by this time a gramophone. Here they sit and smoke, read, or get up little plays. As the château is now occupied by the staff the two patronesses are obliged to go back and forth from Paris, and this they do once a week at least.
Madame Waddington, knowing that I was very anxious to see one of the cantines at the railway stations about which so much was said, took me late one afternoon to St. Lazare. Into this great station, as into all the others, train after train hourly gives up its load of permissionnaires—men home on their six days’ leave—; men for the éclopé stations; men from shattered regiments, to be held at Le Bourget until the time comes to be sent to fill other gaps made by the German guns; men who merely arrive by one train to take another out, but who must frequently remain for several hours in the dépôt.
I have never entered one of these gares to take a train that I have not seen hundreds of soldiers entering, leaving, waiting; sometimes lying asleep on the hard floor, always on the benches. It is for all who choose to take advantage of them that these cantines are run, and they are open day and night.
The one in St. Lazare had been organized in February, 1915, by the Baronne de Berckheim (born Pourtales) and was still run by her in person when I visited it in June, 1916. During that time she and her staff had taken care of over two hundred thousand soldiers. From 8 to 11 A.M. café-au-lait, or café noir, or bouillon, paté de foie or cheese is served. From 11 to 2 and from 6 to 9, bouillon, a plate of meat and vegetables, salad, cheese, fruits or compote, coffee, a quart of wine or beer, cigarettes. From 2 to 6 and after 9 P.M., bouillon, coffee, tea, paté, cheese, milk, lemonade, cocoa.
The rooms in the station are a donation by the officials, of course. The dining-room of the St. Lazare cantine was fitted up with several long tables, before which, when we arrived, every square inch of the benches was occupied by poilus enjoying an excellent meal of which beef à la mode was the pièce de résistance. The Baroness Berckheim and the young girls helping her wore the Red Cross uniform, and they served the needs of the tired and hungry soldiers with a humble devotion that nothing but war and its awful possibilities can inspire. It was these nameless men who were saving not only France from the most brutal enemy of modern times but the honor of thousands of such beautiful and fastidious young women as these. No wonder they were willing and grateful to stand until they dropped.
It was evident, however, that their imagination carried them beyond man’s interiorities. The walls were charmingly decorated not only with pictures of the heroes of the war but with the colored supplements of the great weekly magazines which pursue their even and welcome way in spite of the war. Above there were flags and banners, and the lights were very bright. Altogether there was no restaurant in Paris more cheerful—or more exquisitely neat in its kitchen. I went behind and saw the great roasts in their shining pans, the splendid loaves of bread, the piles of clean dishes. Not a spot of grease in those crowded quarters. In a corner the President of the Chamber of Commerce was cashier for the night.
Adjoining was a rest-room with six or eight beds, and a lavatory large enough for several men simultaneously to wash off the dust of their long journey.
These cantines are supported by collections taken up on trains. On any train between Paris and any point in France outside of the War Zone girls in the uniform of the Croix Rouge appear at every stop and shake a box at you. They are wooden boxes, with a little slit at the top. As I have myself seen people slipping in coppers and, no doubt, receiving the credit from other passengers of donating francs, I suggested that these young cadets of the Red Cross would add heavily to their day’s toll if they passed round open plates. Certainly no one would dare contribute copper under the sharp eyes of his fellows. This, I was told, was against the law, but that it might be found practicable to use glass boxes.
In any case the gains are enough to run these cantines. The girls are almost always good looking and well bred, and they look very serious in their white uniform with the red cross on the sleeves; and the psychotherapeutic influence is too strong for any one to resist.
Madame Waddington had brought a large box of chocolates and she passed a piece over the shoulder of each soldier, who interrupted the more serious business of the moment to be polite. Other people bring them flowers, or cigarettes, and certainly there is no one in the world so satisfactory to put one’s self to any effort for as a poilu. On her manners alone France should win her war.
Madame la Comtesse d’Haussonville, it is generally conceded, is not only the greatest lady in France but stands at the very head of all women working for the public welfare in her country. That is saying a great deal, particularly at this moment.
Madame d’Haussonville is President of the first, or noblesse, division of the Red Cross, which, like the two others, has a title as distinct as the social status of the ladies who command, with diminishing degrees of pomp and power.
Société Française de Secours aux Blessés Militaires is the name of the crack regiment.
The second division, presided over by Madame Carnot, leader of the grande bourgeoisie, calls itself Association des Dames Françaises, and embraces all the charitably disposed of that haughty and powerful body.
The third, operated by Madame Perouse, and composed of able and useful women whom fate has planted in a somewhat inferior social sphere—in many social spheres, for that matter—has been named (note the significance of the differentiating noun) Union des Femmes de France.
Between these three useful and admirable organizations there is no love lost whatever. That is to say, in reasonably normal conditions. No doubt in that terrible region just behind the lines they sink all differences and pull together for the common purpose.
The Red Cross was too old and too taken-for-granted an organization, and too like our own, for all I knew to the contrary, to tempt me to give it any of the limited time at my disposal in France; so, as it happened, of these three distinguished chiefs the only one I met was Madame d’Haussonville.
She interested me intensely, not only because she stood at the head of the greatest relief organization in the world, but because she is one of the very few women, of her age, at least, who not only is a great lady but looks the rôle.
European women tend to coarseness, not to say commonness, as they advance in age, no matter what their rank; their cheeks sag and broaden, and their stomachs contract a fatal and permanent entente with their busts. Too busy or too indifferent to charge spiteful nature with the daily counter-attacks of art, they put on a red-brown wig (generally sideways) and let it go at that. Sometimes they smudge their eyebrows with a pomade which gives that extinct member the look of being neither hair, skin, nor art, but they contemptuously reject rouge or even powder. When they have not altogether discarded the follies or the ennui of dress, but patronize their modiste conscientiously, they have that “built up look” peculiar to those uncompromisingly respectable women of the first society in our own land, who frown upon the merely smart.
It is only the young women of fashion in France who make up lips, brows, and cheeks, as well as hair and earlobes, who often look like young clowns, and whose years give them no excuse for making up beyond subservience to the mode of the hour.
It is even sadder when they are emulated by ambitious ladies in the provinces. I went one day to a great concert—given for charity, of course—in a town not far from Paris. The Mayor presided and his wife was with him. As I had been taken out from Paris by one of the Patrons I sat in the box with this very well-dressed and important young woman, and she fascinated me so that I should have feared to appear rude if she had not been far too taken up with the titled women from Paris, whom she was meeting for the first time in her life, to pay any attention to a mere American.
She may have been twenty-eight, certainly not over thirty, but she had only one front tooth. It was a very large tooth and it stuck straight out. Her lips were painted an energetic vermillion. Her mouth too was large, and it spread across her dead white (and homely) face like a malignant sore. She smiled constantly—it was her rôle to be gracious to all these duchesses and ambassadresses—and that solitary tooth darted forward like a sentinel on a bridge in the War Zone. But I envied her. She was so happy. So important. I never met anybody who made me feel so insignificant.
Madame d’Haussonville naturally suggests to the chronicler the sharpest sort of contrasts.
I am told that she devoted herself to the world until the age of fifty, and she wielded a power and received a measure of adulation from both sexes that made her the most formidable social power in France. But the De Broglies are a serious family, as their record in history proves. Madame d’Haussonville, without renouncing her place in the world of fashion, devoted herself more and more to good works, her superior brain and executive abilities forcing her from year to year into positions of heavier responsibility.
I was told that she was now seventy; but she is a woman whose personality is so compelling that she rouses none of the usual vulgar curiosity as to the number of years she may have lingered on this planet. You see Madame d’Haussonville as she is and take not the least interest in what she may have been during the years before you happened to meet her.
Very tall and slender and round and straight, her figure could hardly have been more perfect at the age of thirty. The poise of her head is very haughty and the nostril of her fine French nose is arched and thin. She wears no make-up whatever, and, however plainly she may feel it her duty to dress in these days, her clothes are cut by a master and an excessively modern one at that; there is none of the Victorian built-up effect, to which our own grandes dames cling as to the rock of ages, about Madame d’Haussonville. Her waist line is in its proper place—she does not go to the opposite extreme and drag it down to her knees—and one feels reasonably sure that it will be there at the age of ninety—presupposing that the unthinkable amount of hard work she accomplishes daily during this period of her country’s crucifixion shall not have devoured the last of her energies long before she is able to enter the peaceful haven of old age.
She is in her offices at the Red Cross headquarters in the Rue François I’er early and late, leaving them only to visit hospitals or sit on some one of the innumerable committees where her advice is imperative, during the organizing period at least.
Some time ago I wrote to Madame d’Haussonville, asking her if she would dictate a few notes about her work in the Red Cross, and as she wrote a very full letter in reply, I cannot do better than quote it, particularly as it gives a far more comprehensive idea of her personality than any words of mine.
“Paris, March 28th, 1917.
“Dear Mrs. Atherton:
“I am very much touched by your gracious letter and very happy if I can serve you.
“Here are some notes about our work, and about what I have seen since August, 1914. All our thoughts and all our strength are in the great task, that of all French women, to aid the wounded, the ill, those who remain invalids, the refugees of the invaded districts, all the sufferings actually due to these cruel days.
“Some weeks before the war, I was called to the ministry, where they asked me to have two hundred infirmaries ready for all possible happenings. We had already established a great number, of which many had gone to Morocco and into the Colonies. To-day there are fifteen or sixteen thousand volunteer nurses to whom are added about eleven thousand auxiliaries used in accessory service (kitchen, bandages, sterilization, etc.) and also assisting in the wards of the ill and the wounded.
“To the hospitals there have been added since the month of August, 1914, the infirmaries and station cantines where our soldiers receive the nourishment and hot drinks which are necessary for their long journeys.
“At Amiens, for instance, the cantine, an annex of the station infirmary began with the distribution of slices of bread and drinks made by our women as the trains arrived. Then a big room used for baggage was given to us. A dormitory was made of it for tired soldiers, also a reading-room. At any hour French, English or Belgians may receive a good meal—soup, one kind of meat and vegetables, coffee or tea. Civil refugees are received there and constantly aided and fed.
“Our nurses attend to all wants, and above everything they believe in putting their hearts into their work administering to those who suffer with the tenderness of a mother. In the hospital wards nothing touched me more than to see the thousand little kindnesses which they gave to the wounded, the distractions which they sought to procure for them each day.
“In our great work of organization at the Bureau on Rue François I’er, I have met the most beautiful devotion. Our nurses do not hesitate at contagion, nor at bombardments, and I know some of your compatriots (that I can never admire enough), who expose themselves to the same dangers with hearts full of courage.
“I have visited the hospitals nearest the Front, Dunkerque, so cruelly shelled. I have been to Alsace, to Lorraine, then to Verdun from where I brought back the most beautiful impression of calm courage.
“Here are some details which may interest your compatriots:
“June 1916. My first stop was at Châlons, where with Mme. Terneaux-Compans our devoted senior nurse, I visited the hospital Corbineau, former quarters for the cavalry, very well reconstructed by the Service de Santé, for sick soldiers; our nurses are doing service there; generous gifts have enabled us to procure a small motor which carries water to the three stories, and we have been able to install baths for the typhoid patients.
“At the hospital Forgeot (for the officers) I admired the ingeniousness with which our nurses have arranged for their wounded a quite charming assembly-room with a piano, some growing plants and several games.
“I also visited our auxiliary hospital at Sainte-Croix. It would be impossible to find a more beautiful location, a better organization. I have not had, to my great regret, the time to visit the other hospitals, which, however, I already know. That will be, I hope, for another time.
“The same day I went to Revigny. Oh, never shall I forget the impressions that I received there. First, the passage through that poor village in ruins, then the visit to the hospital situated near the station through which most of the wounded from Verdun pass.
“What was, several months ago, a field at the edge of the road, has become one big hospital of more than a thousand beds, divided into baraques. We have twenty-five nurses there. Since the beginning of the battle they have been subjected to frightful work; every one has to care for a number of critically wounded—those who have need of operations and who are not able to travel further. What moved me above everything was to find our nurses so simple and so modest in their courage. Not a single complaint about their terrible fatigue—their one desire is to hold out to the end. When I expressed my admiration, one of them answered: ‘We have only one regret: it is that we have too much work to give special attention to each of the wounded, and then above all it is terrible to see so many die.’
“I visited some of the baraques, and I observed that, in spite of the excessive work, they were not only clean but well cared for, and flowers everywhere! I also saw a tent where there were about ten Germans; one of our nurses who spoke their language was in charge; they seemed to me very well taken care of—’well,’ because they were wounded, not ‘too well’ because—we cannot forget.
“I tore myself away from Revigny, where I should have liked to remain longer, and I arrived that night at Jeans d’Heurs, which seemed to me a small paradise. The wounded were admirably cared for in beautiful rooms, with windows opening on a ravishing park; the nurses housed with the greatest care.
“The next day I was at Bar-le-Duc, first at the Central, which is an immense hospital of three thousand beds. Before the war it was a caserne (barrack). They reconstructed the buildings and in the courts they put up sheds; our nurses are at work there—among them the beloved President of our Association—the Mutual Association of Nurses. All these buildings seemed to me perfect. I visited specially the splendidly conducted surgical pavilion and the typhoid pavilion.
“The white-washed walls have been decorated by direction of the nurses with great friezes of color, producing a charming effect which ought to please the eyes of our beloved sick.
“I visited also the laboratory where they showed me the chart of the typhoid patients—the loss so high in 1914—so low in 1915. I noted down some figures which I give here for those who are interested in the question of anti-typhoid vaccine: In November 1914, 379 deaths. In November 1915, 22! What a new and wonderful victory for French science! I must add that three of our nurses have contracted typhoid fever; none of them was inoculated; twenty who were inoculated caught nothing.
“While we were making this visit, we heard the whistle which announced the arrival of taubes—we wanted very much to remain outside to see, but we were ordered to go in; I observed that our nurses obeyed the order because of discipline, not on account of fear. ‘We can only die once!’ one of them said to me, shrugging her shoulders. Their chief concern is for the poor wounded. Many of them now that they are in bed, powerless to defend themselves, become nervous at the approach of danger. They have to be reassured. If the shelling becomes too heavy, they carry them down into the cellars.
“These taubes having gone back this time without causing any damage, we set off for Savonnières, a field hospital of about three hundred beds, established in a little park. It is charming in summer, it may be a little damp in winter, but the nurses do not complain; the nurses never complain!
“Saturday was the most interesting day of my trip. I saw two field hospitals between Bar-le-Duc and Verdun. Oh! those who have not been in the War Zone cannot imagine the impression that I received on the route which leads ‘out there,’ toward the place where the greatest, the most atrocious struggle that has ever been is going on. All those trucks by hundreds going and coming from Verdun; those poor men breaking stones, ceaselessly repairing the roads, the aeroplane bases, the dépôts of munitions, above all the villages filled with troops, all those dear little soldiers, some of them fresh and clean, going, the others yellow with mud returning—all this spectacle grips and thrills you.
“We breakfasted at Chaumont-sur-Aire; I cannot say how happy I was to share, if only for an hour, the life of our dear nurses! Life here is hard. They are lodged among the natives more or less well. They live in a little peasant’s room near a stable; they eat the food of the wounded, not very varied—’boule’ every two weeks. How they welcomed the good fresh bread that I brought!
“Their work is not easy, scattered over a wide field; tents, and barns here and there, and then they have been deprived of an ‘autocher,’ which had to leave for some other destination.
“Many of the wounded from Verdun come there; and what wounded! Never shall I forget the frightful plight of one unfortunate, upon whom they were going to operate without much chance of success alas. He had remained nearly four days without aid, and gangrene had done its work.
“I had tears in my eyes watching the sleep of our heroes who had arrived that morning overcome and wornout, all covered with dust; I would have liked to put them in good beds, all white with soft pillows under their heads. Alas in these hospitals at the front, one cannot give them the comfort of our hospitals in the rear.
“After having assisted at the great spectacle of a procession of taubes going toward Bar-le-Duc, I was obliged to leave Chaumont to go to Vadelaincourt, which is thirteen kilometres from Verdun, the nearest point of our infirmaries. I was there in March at the beginning of the battle.
“What wonderful work has been accomplished! It is not for me to judge the Service de Santé, but I cannot help observing that a hospital like that of Vadelaincourt does honor to the head doctor who organized it in full battle in the midst of a thousand difficulties. It is very simple, very practical, very complete. I found nurses there who for the most part have not been out of the region of Verdun since the beginning of the war. Their task is especially hard. How many wounded have passed through their hands; how have they been able to overcome all their weariness? It is a pleasure to find them always alert and watchful; I admired and envied them.
“It was not without regret that I turned my back on this region whose close proximity to the Front makes one thrill with emotion; I went to calmer places, I saw less thrilling things, but nevertheless, interesting: the charming layout at Void, that at Sorcy, in process of organizing, the grand hospital of Toul which was shelled by taubes. I was able to see the enormous hole dug by the bomb which fell very near the building that sheltered our nurses, who had but one idea, to run to their wounded and reassure them.
“I visited at Nancy a very beautiful hospital, the Malgrange, which is almost unique; it is the Red Cross which houses the military hospital. At the instant of bombardment, most of the hospitals were vacated; ours, situated outside of the city, gathered in the wounded and all the personnel of the military hospital, and it goes very well.
“I finished my journey with the Vosges, Épinal, Belfort, Gerardmer, Bussang, Morvillars; all these hospitals which were filled for a long time with the wounded from the battles of the Vosges (especially our brave Alpines) are quiet now.
“If I congratulated the nurses of the region of Verdun upon their endurance, I do not congratulate less those of the Vosges upon their constancy; Gerardmer has had very full days—days when one could not take a thought to one’s self. There is something painful, in a way, in seeing great happenings receding from you. We do not hear the cannon any longer, the wounded arrive more rarely, we have no longer enough to do, we are easily discouraged, we should like to be elsewhere and yet one must remain there at his post ready in case of need, which may come perhaps when it is least expected.
“I shall have many things still to tell you, but I am going to resume my impressions of this little trip in a few words.
“I have been filled with admiration. The word has, I believe, fallen many times from my pen, and it will fall again and again. I have admired our dear wounded, so courageous in their suffering, so gracious to all those who visit them; I have admired the doctors who are making and have made every day, such great efforts to organize and to better conditions; and our nurses I have never ceased to admire. When I see them I find them just as I hoped, very courageous and also very simple. They speak very little of themselves, and a great deal of their wounded; they complain very little of their fatigue, sometimes of not having enough to do. They always meet cheerfully the material difficulties of their existence as they do almost always the moral difficulties which are even more difficult. Self-abnegation, attention to their duty, seem to them so natural that one scarcely dares to praise them.
“There is one thing that I must praise them for particularly—that they always seem to keep the beautiful charming coquetry that belongs to every woman. I often arrived without warning. I never saw hair disarranged or dress neglected. This exterior perfection is, I may say, a distinctive mark of our nurses.
“And then I like the care with which they decorate and beautify their hospital. Everywhere flowers, pictures, bits of stuff to drape their rooms. At Revigny in one of the baraques I saw flowers, simple flowers gathered in the neighboring field, so prettily arranged, portraits of our generals framed in green. When I complimented a nurse, she answered: ‘Ah, no; it is not well done; but I hadn’t the time to do better.’
“At Vadelaincourt, a little room was set aside for dressings, all done in white with curtains of white and two little vases of flowers. What a smiling welcome for the poor wounded who come there! ‘The arrangement of a room has a great deal of influence on the morale of the wounded,’ a doctor said to me. All this delights me!
“I have finished, but I shall think for a long time of this journey which has left in my memory unforgettable sights and in my heart very tender impressions.
“In the Somme, also, our nurses have worked with indefatigable ardor, and they go on without relaxation. The poor refugees, which the Germans return to us often sick and destitute of everything, are received and comforted by our women of the Red Cross.
“The three societies of the Red Cross—our Society for the Relief of the Military Wounded, the Union of the Women of France, and the Association of the Ladies of France—work side by side under the direction of the Service de Santé.
“Our Society for the Relief of the Military Wounded has actually about seven hundred hospitals, which represent sixty thousand beds, where many nurses are occupied from morning until night, and many of them serve also at the military hospital at the Front, and in the Orient (three to four thousand nurses).
“Every day new needs make us create new oeuvres, which we organize quickly.
“The making of bandages and compresses has always been an important work with us. Yards of underclothing and linen are continually asked of us by our nurses for their sick. The workshops which we have opened since the beginning of the war assist with work a great number of women who have been left by the mobilization of their men without resources.
“The clubs for soldiers, in Paris especially, give to the convalescents and to the men on leave wholesome amusement and compensate somewhat for their absent families.
“Just now we are trying to establish an anti-tuberculosis organization to save those of our soldiers who have been infected or are menaced. Many hospitals are already opened for them. At Mentom, on the Mediterranean, for the blind tubercular; at Hauteville, in the Department of the Aisne, for the officers and soldiers; at La Rochelle, for bone-tuberculosis; but the task is enormous.
“We seek also, and the work is under way, to educate intelligently the mutilated, so that they may work and have an occupation in the sad life which remains to them, and I assure you, chère madame, that so many useful things to be done leave very few leisure hours. If a little weariness has in spite of everything slipped into our hearts, a visit to the hospitals, to the ambulances at the Front, the sight of suffering so bravely, I will even say so cheerfully, supported by our soldiers, very quickly revives our courage, and brings us back our strength and enthusiasm….”
* * *
The Countess de Roussy de Sales (an American brought up in Paris) was one of the first of the infirmières to be mobilized by Madame d’Haussonville on the declaration of war. She went to Rheims with the troops, standing most of the time, but too much enthralled by the spirit of the men to notice fatigue. She told me that although they were very sober, even grim, she heard not a word of complaint, but constantly the ejaculation: “It is for France and our children. What if we die, so long as our children may live in peace?”
At Rheims, so impossible had it been to make adequate preparations with the Socialists holding up every projected budget, there were no installations in the hospitals but beds. The nurses and doctors were obliged to forage in the town for operating tables and the hundred and one other furnishings without which no hospital can be conducted. And they had little time. The wounded came pouring in at once. Madame de Roussy de Sales said they were so busy it was some time before it dawned on them, in spite of the guns, that the enemy was approaching. But when women and children and old people began to hurry through the streets in a constant procession they knew it was only a matter of time before they were ordered out. They had no time to think, however; much less to fear.
Finally the order came to evacuate the hospitals and leave the town, which at that time was in imminent danger of capture. There was little notice. The last train leaves at three o’clock. Be there. Madame de Roussy de Sales and several other nurses begged to go with those of their wounded impossible to transfer by trains, to the civilian hospitals and make them comfortable before leaving them in the hands of the local nurses; and obtained permission. The result was that when they reached the station they saw the train retreating in the distance. But they had received orders to report at a hospital in another town that same afternoon. No vehicles were to be had. There was nothing to do but walk. They walked. The distance was twenty-three kilometres. As they had barely sat down since their arrival in Rheims it may be imagined they would have been glad to rest when they reached their destination. But this hospital too was crowded with wounded. They went on duty at once. C’est la guerre! I never heard any one complain.
The Marquise d’Andigné, who was Madeline Goddard of Providence, R.I., is President of Le Bien-Être du Blessé, an oeuvre formed by Madame d’Haussonville at the request of the Ministère de la Guerre in May, 1915. She owes this position as president of one of the most important war relief organizations (perhaps after the Red Cross the most important) to the energy, conscientiousness, and brilliant executive abilities she had demonstrated while at the Front in charge of more than one hospital. She is an infirmiére major and was decorated twice for cool courage and resource under fire.
The object of Le Bien-Être du Blessé is to provide delicacies for the dietary kitchens of the hospitals in the War Zone, as many officers and soldiers had died because unable to eat eggs, or drink milk, the only two articles furnished by the rigid military system of the most conservative country in the world. The articles supplied by Le Bien-Être du Blessé are very simple: condensed milk, sugar, cocoa, Franco-American soups, chocolate, sweet biscuits, jams, preserves, prunes, tea. Thousands of lives have been saved by Bien-Être during the past year; for men who are past caring, or wish only for the release of death, have been coaxed back to life by a bit of jam on the tip of a biscuit, or a teaspoonful of chicken soup.
Some day I shall write the full and somewhat complicated history of Le Bien-Être du Blessé, quoting from many of Madame d’Andigné’s delightful letters. But there is no space here and I will merely mention that my own part as the American President of Le Bien-Être du Blessé is to provide the major part of the funds with which it is run, lest any of my readers should be tempted to help me out.[E]All donations in money are sent to the bankers, Messers John Munroe & Co., Eighth Floor, 360 Madison Avenue, New York. Donations from ten cents to ten thousand are welcome, and $5 keeps a wounded man for his entire time in one of those dreary hospitals in that devastated region known as “Le Zone des Armées,” where relatives nor friends ever come to visit, and there is practically no sound but the thunder of guns without and groans within. Not that the French do groan much. I went through many of these hospitals and never heard a demonstration. But I am told they do sometimes.
To Madame d’Andigné belongs all the credit of building up Le Bien-Être du Blessé from almost nothing (for we were nearly two years behind the other great war-relief organizations in starting). Although many give her temporary assistance no one will take charge of any one department and she runs every side and phase of the work. Last winter she was cold, and hungry, and always anxious about her husband, but she was never absent from the office for a day except when she could not get coal to warm it; and then she conducted the business of the oeuvre in her own apartment, where one room was warmed with wood she had sawed herself.
To-day Le Bien-Être du Blessé is not only one of the most famous of all the war-relief organizations of the fighting powers but it has been run with such systematic and increasing success that the War Office has installed Bien-Être kitchens in the hospitals (before, the nurses had to cook our donations over their own spirit lamp) and delegated special cooks to relieve the hard-worked infirmières of a very considerable tax on their energies. This is a tremendous bit of radicalism on the part of the Military Department of France, and one that hardly can be appreciated by citizens of a land always in a state of flux. There is even talk of making these Bien-Être kitchens a part of the regular military system after the war is over, and if they do commit themselves to so revolutionary an act no doubt the name of the young American Marquise will go down to posterity—as it deserves to do, in any case.
Madame Lyon committed on my behalf what for her was a tremendous breach of the proprieties: she called upon me without the formality of a letter of introduction. No American can appreciate what such a violation of the formalities of all the ages must have meant to a pillar of the French Bourgeoisie. But she set her teeth and did it. Her excuse was that she had read all my books, and that she was a friend of Mlle. Thompson, at whose École Hôtelière I was lodging.
I was so impressed at the unusualness of this proceeding that, being out when she first called, and unable to receive her explanations, I was filled with dark suspicion and sought an explanation of Mlle. Jacquier. Madame Lyon? Was she a newspaper woman? A secret service agent? Between the police round the corner and Mlle. Jacquier, under whose eagle eye I conformed to all the laws of France in war time, I felt in no further need of supervision.
Mlle. Jacquier was very much amused. Madame Lyon was a very important person. Her husband had been associated with the Government for fourteen years until he had died, leaving a fortune behind him, a year before; and Madame Lyon was not only on intimate terms with the Government but made herself useful in every way possible to them. She was one of the two ladies asked to cooperate with the Government in their great enterprise to wage war on tuberculosis—Le Comité Central d’Assistance aux Militaires Tuberculeux; and was to open ateliers to teach the men how to learn new trades by which they might sit at home in comfort and support themselves.
And she had her own ouvroir—”L’Aide Immédiate”—for providing things for the permissionnaires, who came to the door and asked for them. She ran, with a committee of other ladies, a café in Paris, where the permissionnaires or the réformés could go and have their afternoon coffee and smoke all the cigarettes that their devoted patrons provided. One hundred poilus came here a day, and her ouvroir had already assisted eighteen thousand. And——
But by this time I was more interested to meet Madame Lyon than any one in Paris. As I have said before, a letter or two will open the doors of the noblesse or the “Intellectuals” to any stranger who knows how to behave himself and is no bore, but to get a letter to a member of the bourgeoisie—I hadn’t even made the attempt, knowing how futile it would be. If one of them was doing a great work, like Mlle. Javal, I could meet her quite easily through some member of her committee; but when Frenchwomen of this class, which in its almost terrified exclusiveness reminds me only of our own social groups balancing on the very tip of the pyramid and clutching one another lest some intruder topple them off, or cast the faintest shadow on their hard-won prestige, are working in small groups composed of their own friends, I could not meet one of them if I pitched my tent under her windows.
Madame Lyon gave me a naïve explanation of her audacity when we finally did meet. “I am a Jewess,” she said, “and therefore not so bound down by conventions. You see, we of the Jewish race were suppressed so long that now we have our freedom reaction makes us almost adventurous.”
Besides hastening to tell me of her race she promptly, as if it were a matter of honor, informed me that she was sixty years old! She looked about forty, her complexion was white and smooth, her nose little and straight, her eyes brilliant. She dressed in the smartest possible mourning, and with that white ruff across her placid brow—Oh là là!
She has one son, who was wounded so terribly in the first year of the war, and was so long getting to a hospital where he could receive proper attention, that he was gangrened. In consequence his recovery was very slow, and he was not permitted to go again to the trenches, but was, after his recovery, sent up north to act as interpreter between the British and French troops. He stood this for a few months, and Madame Lyon breathed freely, but there came a time when M. Lyon, although a lawyer in times of peace, could not stand the tame life of interpreter. He might be still delicate, but, he argued, there were officers at the front who had only one arm. At the present moment he is in the stiffest fighting on the Somme.
I saw a great deal of Madame Lyon and enjoyed no one more, she was so independent, so lively of mind, and so ready for anything. She went with me on two of my trips in the War Zone, being only too glad of mental distraction; for like all the mothers of France she dreads the ring of the door-bell. She told me that several times the ladies who worked in her ouvroir would come down with beaming faces and read extracts from letters just received from their sons at the Front, then go home and find a telegram announcing death or shattered limbs.
Madame Lyon has a hôtel on the Boulevard Berthier and before her husband’s death was famous for her political breakfasts, which were also graced by men and women distinguishing themselves in the arts. These breakfasts have not been renewed, but I met at tea there a number of the political women. One of these was Madame Ribot, wife of the present Premier. She is a very tall, thin, fashionable looking woman, and before she had finished the formalities with her hostess (and these formalities do take so long!) I knew her to be an American. She spoke French as fluently as Madame Lyon, but the accent, however faint—or was it a mere intonation,—was unmistakable. She told me afterward that she had come to France as a child and had not been in the United States for fifty-two years!
One day Madame Lyon took me to see the ateliers of Madame Viviani—in other words, the workshops where the convalescents who must become réformés are learning new trades and industries under the patronage of the wife of the cabinet minister now best known to us. Madame Viviani has something like ten or twelve of these ateliers, but after I had seen one or two of the same sort of anything in Paris, and listened to long conscientious explanations, and walked miles in those enormous hospitals (originally, for the most part, Lycées) I felt that duplication could not enhance my knowledge, and might, indeed, have the sad effect of blunting it.
Madame Lyon said to me more than once: “Ma chère, you are without exception, the most impatient woman I have ever seen in my life. You no sooner enter a place than you want to leave it.” She was referring at the moment to the hospitals in the War Zone, where she would lean on the foot of every bed and have a long gossip with the delighted inmate, extract the history of his wound, and relate the tale of similar wounds, healed by surgery, time and patience—while I, having made the tour of the cots, either opened and shut the door significantly, or walked up and down impatiently, occasionally muttering in her ear.
The truth of the matter was that I had long since cultivated the habit of registering definite impressions in a flash, and after a tour of the cots, which took about seven minutes, could have told her the nature of every wound. Moreover, I knew the men did not want to talk to me, and I felt impertinent hanging round.
But all this was incomprehensible to a Frenchwoman, to whom time is nothing, and who knows how the French in any conditions love to talk.
However, to return to Madame Viviani.
After one futile attempt, when I got lost, I met Madame Lyon and her distinguished but patient friend out in one of the purlieus of Paris where the Lycée of Arts and Crafts has been turned into a hospital for convalescents.
Under the direction of a doctor each convalescent was working at what his affected muscles most needed or could stand. Those that ran sewing-machines exercised their legs. Those that made toys and cut wood with the electric machines got a certain amount of arm exercise. The sewing-machine experts had already made fifty thousand sacks for sand fortifications and breastworks.
From this enormous Lycée (which cost, I was told, five million francs) we drove to the Salpêtrière, which in the remote ages before the war, was an old people’s home. Its extent, comprising, as it does, court after court, gardens, masses of buildings which loom beyond and yet beyond, not only inspired awed reflections of the number of old that must need charity in Paris but made one wonder where they were at the present moment, now that the Salpêtrière had been turned into a hospital. Perhaps, being very old, they had conveniently died.
Here the men made wooden shoes with leather tops for the trenches, cigarette packages, ingenious toys—the airships and motor ambulances were the most striking; baskets, chairs, lace.
The rooms I visited were in charge of an English infirmière and were fairly well aired. Some of the men would soon be well enough to go back to the Front and were merely given occupation during their convalescence. But in the main the object is to prepare the unfortunates known as réformés for the future.
Since the fighting on the Somme began Madame Lyon has gone several times a month to the recaptured towns, in charge of train-loads of installations for the looted homes of the wretched people. In one entire village the Germans had left just one saucepan. Nothing else whatever.
The Duchesse d’Uzès (jeune) was not only one of the reigning beauties of Paris before the war but one of its best-dressed women; nor had she ever been avoided for too serious tendencies. She went to work the day war began and she has never ceased to work since. She has started something like seventeen hospitals both at the French front and in Saloniki, and her tireless brain has to its credit several notable inventions for moving field hospitals.
Near Amiens is the most beautiful of the duc’s castles, Lucheux, built in the eleventh century. This she turned into a hospital during the first battle of the Somme in 1915, and as it could only accommodate a limited number she had hospital tents erected in the park. Seven hundred were cared for there. Lucheux is now a hospital for officers.
She herself is an infirmière major and not only goes back and forth constantly to the hospitals in which she is interested, particularly Lucheux, but sometimes nurses day and night.
I was very anxious to see Lucheux, as well as Arras, which is not far from Amiens, and, a vast ruin, is said to be by moonlight the most beautiful sight on earth. We both besieged the War Office. But in vain. The great Battle of the Somme had just begun. They are so polite at the Ministère de la Guerre! If I had only thought of it a month earlier. Or if I could remain in France a month or two longer? But hélas! They could not take the responsibility of letting an American woman go so close to the big guns. And so forth. It was sad enough that the duchess risked her life, took it in her hand, in fact, every time she visited the château, but as a Frenchwoman, whose work was of such value to France, it was their duty to assist her in the fulfillment of her own duty to her country. Naturally her suggestion to take me on her passport as an infirmière was received with a smile. So I must see Arras with a million other tourists after the war.
The duchess prefers for reasons of her own to work, not with the noblesse division of the Red Cross, but with the Union des Femmes de France. As she is extremely independent, impatient, and enterprising, with a haughty disdain of red tape, the reasons for this uncommon secession may be left to the reader.
And if she is to-day one of the most valued of the Ministère de la Guerre’s coöperators, she has on the other hand reason to be grateful for the incessant demands upon her mind, for her anxieties have been great—no doubt are still. Not only is the duc at the front, but one of two young nephews who lived with her was killed last summer, and the other, a young aviator, who was just recovering from typhoid when I was there, was ill-concealing his impatience to return to the Front. Her son, a boy of seventeen—a volunteer of course—in the sudden and secret transfers the army authorities are always making, sometimes could not communicate with her for a fortnight at a time, and meanwhile she did not know whether he was alive or “missing.” Since then he has suffered one of those cruel misfortunes which, in this war, seem to be reserved for the young and gallant. She writes of it in that manner both poignant and matter-of-fact that is so characteristic of the French mother these days:
“I have just gone through a great deal of anguish on account of my oldest son, who, as I told you, left the cavalry to enter the chasseurs à pied at his request.
“The poor boy was fighting in the splendid (illegible) affair, and he was buried twice, then caught by the stifling gases, his mask having been torn off. He insisted upon remaining at his post, in spite of the fact that he was spitting blood. Fortunately a lieutenant passed by and saw him. He gave orders to have him carried away. As soon as he reached the ambulance he fainted and could only be brought to himself with the greatest difficulty. His lungs are better, thank God, but his heart is very weak, and even his limbs are affected by the poison. Many weeks will be required to cure him. I don’t know yet where he will be sent to be attended to, but of course I shall accompany him…. The duc is always in the Somme, where the bombardment is something dreadful. He sleeps in a hut infested with rats. Really it is a beautiful thing to see so much courage and patience among men of all ages in this country.”
In the same letter she writes: “I am just about to finish my new Front hospital according to the desiderata expressed by our President of the Hygiène Commission. I hope it will be accepted as a type of the surgical movable ambulances.”
Before it was generally known that Roumania was “coming in” she had doctors and nurses for several months in France in the summer of 1916 studying all the latest devices developed by the French throughout this most demanding of all wars. The officials sent with them adopted several of the Duchesse d’Uzès’ inventions for the movable field hospital.
She has never sent me the many specific details of her work that she promised me, or this article would be longer. But, no wonder! What time have those women to sit down and write? I often wonder they gave me as much time as they did when I was on the spot.
Before the war society used to dance once a week in the red and gold salon of the historic “hôtel” of the Rohans’ in the Faubourg St. Germain, just behind the Hôtel des Invalides. Here the duchess entertained when she took up her residence there as a bride; and, as her love of “the world” never waned, she danced on with the inevitable pauses for birth and mourning, until her daughters grew up and brought to the salon a new generation. But the duchess and her own friends continued to dance on a night set apart for themselves, and in time all of her daughters, but one, married and entertained in their own hôtels. Her son, who, in due course, became the Duc de Rohan, also married; but mothers are not dispossessed in France, and the duchess still remained the center of attraction at the Hôtel de Rohan.
Until August second, 1914.
The duchess immediately turned the hôtel into a hospital. When I arrived last summer it looked as if it had been a hospital for ever. All the furniture of the first floor had been stored and the immense dining-room, the red and gold salon, the reception rooms, all the rooms large and small on this floor, in fact, were lined with cots. The pictures and tapestries have been covered with white linen, four bathrooms have been installed, and a large operating and surgical-dressing room built as an annex. The hall has been turned into a “bureau,” with a row of offices presided over by Maurice Rostand.
Behind the hôtel is the usual beautiful garden, very large and shaded with splendid trees. During fine weather there are cots or long chairs under every tree, out in the sun, on the veranda; and, after the War Zone, these men seemed to me very fortunate. The duchess takes in any one sent to her, the Government paying her one-franc-fifty a day for each. The greater part of her own fortune was invested in Brussels.
She and her daughters and a few of her friends do all of the nursing, even the most menial. They wait on the table, because it cheers the poilus—who, by the way, all beg, as soon as they have been there a few days, to be put in the red and gold salon. It keeps up their spirits! Her friends and their friends, if they have any in Paris, call constantly and bring them cigarettes. Fortunately I was given the hint by the Marquise de Talleyrand, who took me the first time, and armed myself with one of those long boxes that may be carried most conveniently under the arm. Otherwise, I should have felt like a superfluous intruder, standing about those big rooms looking at the men. In the War Zone where there were often no cigarettes, or anything else, to be bought, it was different. The men were only too glad to see a new face.
The duchess trots about indefatigably, assists at every operation, assumes personal charge of infectious cases, takes temperatures, waits on the table, and prays all night by the dying. Mr. Van Husen, a young American who was helping her at that time, told me that if a boy died in the hospital and was a devout Catholic, and friendless in Paris, she arranged to have a high mass for his funeral service at a church in the neighborhood.
The last time I saw her she was feeling very happy because her youngest son, who had been missing for several weeks, had suddenly appeared at the hôtel and spent a few days with her. A week later the Duc de Rohan, one of the most brilliant soldiers in France, was killed; and since my return I have heard of the death of her youngest. Such is life for the Mothers of France to-day.
The Countess Greffulhe (born Princesse de Chimay and consequently a Belgian, although no stretch of fancy could picture her as anything but a Parisian) offered her assistance at once to the Government and corresponded with hundreds of Mayors in the provinces in order to have deserted hotels made over into hospitals with as little delay as possible. She also established a dépôt to which women could come privately and sell their laces, jewels, bibelots, etc. Her next enterprise was to form a powerful committee which responsible men and women of the allied countries could ask to get up benefits when the need for money was pressing.
Upon one occasion when a British Committee made this appeal she induced Russia to send a ballet for a single performance; and she also persuaded the manager of the Opera House to open it for a gala performance for another organization. There is a romantic flavor about all the countess’s work, and just how practical it was or how long it was pursued along any given line I was unable to learn.
Madame Paquin, better known to Americans, I fancy, than any of the great dressmakers of Europe, offered her beautiful home in Neuilly to the Government to be used as a hospital, and it had accommodated up to the summer of 1916 eight thousand, nine hundred soldiers.
She also kept all her girls at work from the first. As no one ordered a gown for something like eighteen months they made garments for the soldiers, or badges for the numerous appeal days—we all decorated ourselves, within ten minutes after leaving the house, like heroes and heroines on the field, about three times a week—and upon one occasion this work involved a three months’ correspondence with all the Mayors of France. It further involved the fastening of ribbons and pins (furnished by herself) upon fifteen million medallions. Madame Paquin is also on many important committees, including “L’Orphelinat des Armées,” so well known to us.
Madame Dupuy was also an American girl, born in New York and now married to the owner of Le Petit Parisien and son of one of the wealthiest men in France. She opened in the first days of the war an organization which she called “Oeuvre du Soldat Blessé ou Malade,” and from her offices in the Hôtel de Crillon and her baraque out at the Dépôt des Dons (where we all have warehouses), she supplies surgeons at the Front with wheeling-chairs, surgical dressings, bed garments, rubber for operating tables, instruments, slippers, pillows, blankets, and a hundred and one other things that harassed surgeons at the Front are always demanding. The oeuvre of the Marquise de Noailles, with which a daughter of Mrs. Henry Seligmen, Madame Henri van Heukelom, is closely associated, is run on similar lines.
I have alluded frequently in the course of these reminiscences to Madame Dupuy, who was of the greatest assistance to me, and more than kind and willing. I wish I could have returned it by collecting money for her oeuvre when I returned to New York, but I found that Le Bien-Être du Blessé was all I could manage. Moreover, it is impossible to get money these days without a powerful committee behind you. To go to one wealthy and generous person or another as during the first days of the war and ask for a donation for the president of an oeuvre unrepresented in this country is out of the question. It is no longer done, as the English say.
Versailles frames in my memory the most tragic of the war-time pictures I collected during my visit to France. That romantic and lovely city which has framed in turn the pomp and glory of France, the iconic simplicities of Marie Antoinette, the odious passions of a French mob, screeching for bread and blood, and the creation of a German Empire, will for long be associated in my mind with a sad and isolated little picture that will find no niche in history, but, as a symbol, is as diagnostic as the storming of the palace gates in 1789.
There is a small but powerful oeuvre in Paris, composed with one exception of Americans devoted to the cause of France. It was founded by its treasurer, Mr. Frederic Coudert. Mr. August Jaccaci, of New York, is President; Mrs. Cooper Hewett, Honorary President; Mrs. Robert Bliss, Vice-President; and the Committee consists of the Comtesse de Viel Castel, Mrs. Francis G. Shaw, and Mrs. William H. Hill, of Boston. It is called “The Franco-American Committee for the Protection of the Children of the Frontier.”
This Committee, which in May, 1916, had already rescued twelve hundred children, was born of one of those imperative needs of the moment when the French civilians and their American friends, working behind the lines, responded to the needs of the unfortunate, with no time for foresight and prospective organization.
In August, 1914, M. Cruppi, a former Minister of State, told Mr. Coudert that in the neighborhood of Belfort there were about eighty homeless children, driven before the first great wind of the war, the battle of Metz; separated from their mothers (their fathers and big brothers were fighting) they had wandered, with other refugees, down below the area of battle and were huddled homeless and almost starving in and near the distracted town of Belfort.
Mr. Coudert immediately asked his friends in Paris to collect funds, and started with M. Cruppi for Belfort. There they found not eighty but two hundred and five children, shelterless, hungry, some of them half imbecile from shock, and all physically disordered.
To leave any of these wretched waifs behind, when Belfort itself might fall at any moment, was out of the question, and M. Cruppi and Mr. Coudert crowded them all into the military cars allotted by the Government and took them to Paris. Some money had been raised. Mr. Coudert cabled to friends in America, Mrs. Bliss (wife of the First Secretary of the American Embassy) and Mrs. Cooper Hewett contributed generously, Valentine Thompson gave her help and advice for a time, and Madame Pietre, wife of the sous-préfet of Yvetot, installed the children in an old seminary near her home and gave them her personal attention. Later, one hundred were returned to their parents and the rest placed in a beautiful château surrounded by a park.
Every day of those first terrible weeks of the war proved that more and more children must be cared for by those whom fortune had so far spared. It was then that Mr. Jaccaci renounced all private work and interests, and that Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Shaw and the Comtesse de Viel Castel volunteered. The organization was formed and christened, Mrs. Bliss provided Relief Dépôts in Paris, and Mr. Coudert returned to New York for a brief visit in search of funds.
During the bombardment of the Belgian and French towns these children came into Paris on every train. They were tagged like post-office packages, and it was as well they were, not only because some were too little to know or to pronounce their names correctly, but even the older ones were often too dazed to give a coherent account of themselves; although the more robust quickly recovered. The first thing to do with this human flotsam was to wash and disinfect and feed it, clip its hair to the skull, and then, having burned the rags of arrival, dress it in clean substantial clothes. While I was in Paris Mr. Jaccaci and Mrs. Hill were meeting these trains; and, when the smaller children arrived frightened and tearful they took them in their arms and consoled them all the way to the Relief Dépôts. The result was that they needed the same treatment as the children.
It was generally the Curé or the Mayor of the bombarded towns that had rounded up each little parentless army and headed it toward Paris. When the larger children were themselves again they all told the same bitter monotonous stories. Suddenly a rain of shrapnel fell on their village or town. They fled to the cellars, perhaps to the one Cave Voûtée (a stone cellar with vaulted roof) and there herded in indescribable filth, darkness, fear, hunger for weeks and even months at a time. The shelling of a village soon stopped, but in the larger towns, strategic points desired of the enemy, the bombarding would be incessant. Mothers, or older children, would venture out for food, returning perhaps with enough to keep the pale flame of life alive, as often as not falling a huddled mass a few feet from the exit of the cellar. Mothers died of typhoid, pneumonia, in childbirth; others never had reached the cellar with their own children in the panic; one way or another these children arrived in Paris in a state of orphanhood, although later investigations proved them to have been hiding close to their mother (and sometimes father; for all men are not physically fit for war) by the width of a street, in a town where the long roar of guns dulled the senses and the affections, and the constant hail of shrapnel precluded all search for anything but food.
Moreover, many families had fled from villages lying in the path of the advancing hordes to the neighboring towns, and there separated, crowding into the nearest Caves Voûtées. Most of these poor women carried a baby and were distraught with fear besides; the older children must cling to the mother’s skirts or become lost in the mêlée.
When one considers that many of these children, in Rheims or Verdun, for instance, were in cellars not for weeks but for months, without seeing the light of day, with their hunger never satisfied, with corpses unburied for days until a momentary lull encouraged the elders to remove the sand bags at the exit and thrust them out, with their refuge rocking constantly and their ear-drums splitting with raucous sounds, where the stenches were enough to poison what red blood they had left and there were no medicines to care for the afflicted little bodies, one pities anew those mentally afflicted people who assert at automatic intervals, “I can’t see any difference between the cruelty of the British blockade and the German submarines.” The resistant powers of the human body, given the bare chance of remaining alive, are little short of phenomenal. But then, when Nature compounded the human frame it was to fling it into a newborn world far more difficult to survive than even the awful conditions of modern warfare.
Some of these children were wounded before they reached the cellars. In many cases the families remained in their homes until the walls, at first pierced by the shrapnel, began to tumble about their ears. Then they would run to the homes of friends on the other side of the town, staying there until the guns, aided by the air scouts, raked such houses as had escaped the first assault. Often there were no Caves Voûtées in the villages. The mothers cowered with their children under the tottering walls or lay flat on the ground until the German guns turned elsewhere; then they ran for the nearest town. But during these distracted transfers many received wounds whose scars they are likely to carry through life. The most seriously wounded were taken to the military hospitals, where they either died, or, if merely in need of bandages, were quickly turned out to make room for some poilu arriving in the everlasting procession of stretchers.
Sometimes, flat on their stomachs, the more curious and intelligent of the children watched the shells sailing overhead to drop upon some beautiful villa or château and transpose it into a heap of stones. Where there were English or Americans in these bombarded towns, or where the Curés or the Mayors of those invaded had not been shot or imprisoned, the children were sent as quickly as possible to Paris, the mothers, when there were any, only too content to let them go and to remain behind and take their chances with the shells.
One little Belgian named Bonduelle, who, with two brothers, reached Paris in safety, is very graphic: “We are three orphans,” he replied in answer to the usual questions. “Our uncle and aunt took the place of our dear parents, so soon taken from us…. It was towards the evening of Wednesday, 6th September, 1914, that I was coming back to my uncle’s house from Ypres, when all at once I heard shrieks and yells in the distance. I stopped, for I was like one stunned. On hearing behind me, on the highway, German cavalry, I ran into a house where I spent the night. I could not close my eyes when I thought of the anxiety of my uncle and aunt and of the fate of my two small brothers, Michael and Roger. Early the following day I rushed to our house. Everybody was in the cellar. We shed tears on meeting again. I found two of my cousins wounded by a shell which had exploded outside our door. Soon another shell comes and smashes our house. I was wounded. Dazed with fear, my cousin and myself got out through a window from the cellar, we ran across fields and meadows to another uncle, where the rest of the family followed us soon. We remained there the whole winter, but what a sad winter! We have not taken off our clothes, for at every moment we feared to have to run away again.
“The big guns rumbled very much and the shells whistled over our heads. Every one heard: ‘So-and-so is killed’ or ‘wounded, by a shell.’ ‘Such-and-such-a-house is ruined by a shell.’
“After having spent more than seven months in incredible fear, my brothers and myself have left the village, at the order of the gendarmes, and the English took us to Hazebrouck, from where we went to Paris.”
In some cases the parents, or, as was most generally the case, the mother, after many terrifying experiences in her village, passed and repassed by the Germans, having heard of the relief stations in Paris, sent their children, properly tagged, to be cared for in a place of comparative safety until the end of the war. Young Bruno Van Wonterghem told his experience in characteristically simple words:
“Towards the evening of September 6th, 1914, the Germans arrived at our village with their ammunition. One would have thought the Last Judgment was about to begin. All the inhabitants were hiding in their houses. I was hiding in the attic, but, desirous to see a German, I was looking through a little window in the roof. Nobody in the house dared to go to bed. It was already very late when we heard knocks at the door of our shop. It was some Germans who wanted to buy chocolate. Some paid but the majority did not. They left saying, ‘Let us kill the French.’ The following morning they marched away toward France. In the evening one heard already the big guns in the distance.
“Turned out of France the Germans came to St. Eloi, where they remained very long. Then they advanced to Ypres. The whole winter I heard the rumbling of the big guns, and the whistling of the shells. I learned also every day of the sad deaths of the victims of that awful war. I was often very frightened and I have been very happy to leave for France with my companions.”
While I was in Paris the refugee children, of course, were from the invaded districts of France; the Belgian stream had long since ceased. Already twelve hundred little victims of the first months of the war, both Belgian and French, either had been returned to their mothers or relatives by the Franco-American Committee, or placed for the educational period of their lives in families, convents, or boys’ schools. The more recent were still in the various colonies established by Mrs. Hill and the other members of the Committee, where they received instruction until such time as their parents could be found, or some kind people were willing to adopt them.
It was on my first Sunday in Paris that Mr. Jaccaci and Mrs. Hill asked me to drive out with them to Versailles and visit a sanitorium for the children whose primary need was restoration to health. It was on the estate of Madame Philip Berard, who had contributed the building, while the entire funds for its upkeep, including a trained nurse, were provided by Mrs. Bliss.
Versailles was as green and peaceful as if a few miles away the shells were not ripping up a field a shot. After lunch in the famous hotel ordinarily one of the gayest in France at that time of the year, we first visited the rest hospital of Miss Morgan, Miss Marbury and Miss de Wolfe, and then drove out into the country to Madame Berard’s historical estate. Here, in the courtyard of a good-sized building, we were greeted by about forty children in pink-and-white gingham aprons, and heads either shaved or finished off with tightly braided pigtails. It seemed to me then that they were all smiling, and—for they had been there some weeks—that most of them looked round and healthy. But I soon found that some were still too languid to play. One lying in a long chair on the terrace at the back of the house and gazing vacantly out at the beautiful woods was tubercular, the victim of months in a damp cellar. Another, although so excessively cheerful that I suspect she was not “all there” was also confined to a long chair, with a hip affection of some sort, but she was much petted, and surrounded by all the little luxuries that the victims of her smile had remembered to send her. One beautiful child had the rickets, and several suffered from intestinal prolapsus and other internal complaints, but were on the road to recovery.
While their Swedish nurse was putting them through their gymnastic exercises I studied their faces. At first my impression was one of prevailing homeliness; scrubbed, flat, peasant faces, for the most part, without the features or the mental apparatus that provides expression. But soon I singled out two or three pretty and engaging children, and rarely one whose face was devoid of character. And they stood well and went through their exercises with precision and vigor.
It was just before we left that my wandering attention was directed toward the scene to which I alluded in my first paragraph. The greater number of the children were shouting at play in a neighboring field. The preternaturally happy invalid was smiling at the lovely woods beyond the terrace, woods where little princes had frolicked, and older princes had wooed and won. Mr. Jaccaci was still petting the beautiful little boy who looked like the bambino on the celebrated fresco of Florence; Mrs. Hill was kissing and hugging several little girls who had clung to her skirts. It was, in spite of its origin, a happy scene.
I had been waiting by the door for these ceremonies of affection to finish, when I happened to glance at the far end of the wide stone terrace. There, by the balustrade, in the shadow of the leafy woods, stood a girl of perhaps eight or ten. Her arms hung at her sides and she was staring straight before her while she cried as I never have seen a child cry; silently, bitterly, with her heavy plain face hardly twisted in its tragic silent woe.
I called Mrs. Hill’s attention to her, for I, a stranger, could not intrude upon a grief like that, and the idol of all those children immediately ran over to the desolate figure. She questioned her, she put her arms about her. She might as well have addressed one of the broken stone nymphs in the woods. That young mind, startled from the present, it may be, by witnessing the endearments lavished upon prettier and smaller children, had traveled far. She was in the past, a past that anteceded even that past of death and thundering guns and rocking walls and empty stomachs; a past when the war, of whose like she had never heard, was still in the sleepless brains of the monster criminals of history, when she lived in a home in a quiet village with the fields beyond; where she had a mother, a father, sisters, brothers; where her tears had been over childish disappointments, and her mother had dried them. Small and homely and insignificant she stood there in her tragic detachment the symbol of all the woe of France, and of the depraved brutality of a handful of ambitious men who had broken the heart of the world.
It is hardly too much to say that every woman in France, from noblesse to peasant, has her filleul (godson) in the trenches; in many cases, when she still has a considerable income in spite of taxes, moratoriums, and all the rest of it, she is a marraine on the grand scale and has several hundred. Children have their filleul, correspond with him, send him little presents several times a month and weep bitterly when word comes that he is deep in his last trench.
Servants save their wages so that when the filleuls of their mistresses come home on their six days’ leave they at least can provide the afternoon wine and entertain them royally in the kitchen. Old maids, still sewing in their attic for a few sous a day, have found a gleam of brightness for the first time in their somber lives in the knowledge that they give a mite of comfort or pleasure to some unknown man, offering his life in the defence of France, and whose letters, sentimental, effusive, playful, almost resign these poor stranded women to the crucifixion of their country.
Busy women like Madame d’Andigné sit up until two in the morning writing to their grateful filleuls. Girls, who once dreamed only of marrying and living the brilliant life of the femme du monde spend hours daily not only on cheerful letters, but knitting, sewing, embroidering, purchasing for humble men who will mean nothing to their future, beyond the growth of spirit they unconsciously induced. Poor women far from Paris, where, at least, thousands of these permissionnaires linger for a few hours on their way home, toil all night over their letters to men for whom they conceive a profound sentiment but never can hope to see. Shop girls save their wages and lady’s maids pilfer in a noble cause.
It was Madame Berard (who was a Miss Dana of Boston) who organized this magnificent spirit into a great oeuvre, so that thousands of men could be made happy whom no kindly woman so far had been able to discover.
Madame Berard, who has three sons in the army herself, nursed at the Front for several months after the war broke out. Even officers told her that they used to go off by themselves and cry because they never received a letter, or any sort of reminder that they were anything but part of a machine defending France. These officers, of course, were from the invaded district, and in addition to their isolation, were haunted by fears for their women now in the power of men who were as cruel as they were sensual and degenerate.
When she returned to her home she immediately entered upon the career of marraine, corresponding with several hundred of the men she either had known or whose names were given to her by their commanding officers. Naturally the work progressed beyond her capacity and she called upon friends to help her out. Out of this initial and purely personal devotion grew the great oeuvre, Mon Soldat, which has met with such a warm response in this country.
Madame Berard’s headquarters are in a villa in the Parc Monceau. Here is conducted all the correspondence with the agents in other cities, here come thousands of letters and presents by every mail to be forwarded to the Front, and here come the grateful—and hopeful—permissionnaires, who never depart without a present and sometimes leave one, generally an ingenious trinket made in the trenches.
When I visited the villa last summer the oeuvre had eight thousand marraines, and no doubt the number has doubled to-day. Fifteen hundred of these were American, marshalled by Madame Berard’s representative in New York, Mr. R.W. Neeser. Some of these fairy godmothers had ten filleuls. Packages were dispatched to the Front every week. Women that could not afford presents wrote regularly. There were at that time over twenty thousand filleuls.
The letters received from these men of all grades must be a source of psychologic as well as sympathetic interest to the more intelligent marraines, for when the men live long enough they reveal much of their native characteristics between the formalities so dear to the French. But too many of them write but one letter, and sometimes they do not finish that.
What the bereft mothers of France will do after this war is over and they no longer have the mutilated sons of other mothers to nurse and serve and work for, is a problem for themselves; but what the younger women will do is a problem for the men.
Practically every day of the three months I spent in Passy I used one of the three lines of tramcars that converge at La Muette (it is almost immoral to take a taxi these days); and I often amused myself watching the women conductors. They are quick, keen, and competent, but, whether it was owing to the dingy black uniforms and distressingly unbecoming Scotch military cap or not, it never did occur to me that there would be any mad scramble for them when the men of France once more found the leisure for love and marriage.
Grim as these women looked, however, “on their job,” I often noticed them laughing and joking when, off duty for a few moments, they rested under the trees at the terminus. No doubt there is in them that ineradicable love of the home so characteristic of the French race, and as there is little beauty in their class at the best, they may appeal more to the taste of men of that class than they did to mine. And it may be that those who are already provided with husbands will cheerfully renounce work in their favor and return to the hearthstone. Perhaps, however, they will not, and wise heads of the sex which has ruled the world so long are conferring at odd moments upon these and other females who have taken up so many of the reins laid down by men and driven the man-made teams with a success that could not be more complete if they had been bred to it, and with a relish that has grown, and shows no sign of retroaction.
The French women of the people, however, unlovely to look upon, toil-worn, absorbed from childhood in petty economics, have little to tempt men outside of the home in which they reign, so for those that do return the problem ends. But it is an altogether different matter with the women of the leisure classes. The industrial women who have proved so competent in the positions occupied for centuries by men merely agitate the economic brain of France, but the future of the women of the upper strata of the bourgeoisie is shaking the very soul of the social psychologist.
At the outbreak of the war hundreds of girls belonging to the best families volunteered as nurses. Some quickly retired to committee work in disgust, or because their pampered bodies rebelled under the strain.
Others have never faltered, doing the most repulsive and arduous work day by day, close to the thunder of guns, or under the constant menace of the taube whose favorite quarry is the hospital full of ill and wounded, and of pretty women whose torn bodies even in imagination satisfy the perversities of German lust; but if they ever go home to rest it is under the peremptory orders of their médecin major, who has no use for shattered nervous systems these days.
While these girls may have lost their illusions a little earlier than they would in matrimony, the result is not as likely to affect the practical French mind toward the married state as it might that of the more romantic and self-deluding American or English woman. There is little doubt that they will marry if they can, for to marry and marry early has been for too many centuries a sort of religious duty with well-born French women to be eradicated by one war; and as they will meet in hospital wards many officers who might not otherwise cross their narrow paths, their chances, if the war ends soon enough, will be reasonably increased.
Moreover, many a man who was a confirmed bachelor will, after the acute discomfort of years of warfare, look upon the married state as a greater reward than the medals on his breast; and on the other hand many girls will be glad to marry men old enough to be a parent of the young husband they once dreamed of; for hardly since the Thirty Years’ War will men when peace comes be so scarce and women so many.
There has even been talk from time to time of bringing the Koranic law across the Mediterranean and permitting each able-bodied Frenchman of any class to have three registered wives besides the one of his choice, the additional expense and responsibility being borne by the State.
But of all the countries in Europe polygamy is most unthinkable in France. The home is as perfected and as sacred an economic institution as the State. To reign over one of those important units, even if deep in the shadow of the expansive male, to maintain it on that high level of excellence which in the aggregate does so much to maintain France at the very apex of civilization, in spite of another code which shocks Anglo-Saxon morality—this, combined with the desire to gratify the profoundest instincts of woman, is the ambition of every well-conditioned French girl.
She would far rather, did the demand of the State for male children become imperative, give it one or more outside the law rather than forfeit her chance to find one day a real husband and to be a component part of that great national institution, The Family. She would not feel in the same class for a moment with the women who live to please men and refrain from justifying themselves by fulfilling at the same time a duty to their depleted State.
The women of the noblesse, like the aristocracies of any country, and whatever the minor shadings and classifications, are divided into two classes: the conservative, respectable, home-loving, no matter what the daily toll to rank; and the devotees of dress, pleasure, sex, subdivided, orchestrated, and romanticized. As these women move in the most brilliant society in the world and can command the willing attendance of men in all circles; as their husbands are so often foraging far afield; and as temptation is commonly proportionate to opportunity, little wonder that the Parisian femme du monde is the most notable disciple of Earth’s politer form of hedonism.
This is true to only a limited extent in the upper circles of the bourgeoisie. Some of the women of the wealthier class dress magnificently, have their lovers and their scandals (in what class do they not?), and before the war danced the night away. But the great majority rarely wandered far from their domestic kingdom, quite content with an occasional ball, dinner, or play. A daughter’s marriage was the greatest event in their lives, and the endless preparations throughout the long engagement, a subdued but delicious period of excitement. Their social circles, whatever their birth, were extremely restricted, and they were, above all things, the mates of their husbands.
But the war has changed all that. France has had something like a war a generation from time immemorial, but in modern times, since woman has found herself, they have been brief. Feminism, whether approved by the great mass of Frenchwomen or not, has done its insidious work. And for many years now there has been the omnipresent American woman with her careless independence; and, still more recently, the desperate fight of the English women for liberty.
It was quite natural when this war swept across Europe like a fiery water-spout, for the French woman of even the bourgeoisie to come forth from her shell (although at first not to the same degree as the noblesse) and work with other women for the men at the Front and the starving at home. Not only did the racing events of those first weeks compel immediate action, but the new ideas they had imbibed, however unwillingly, dictated their course as inevitably as that of the more experienced women across the channel. The result was that these women for the first time in their narrow intensive lives found themselves meeting, daily, women with whom they had had the most distant if any acquaintance; sewing, knitting, talking more and more intimately over their work, running all sorts of oeuvres, founding homes for refugees, making up packages for prisoners in Germany (this oeuvre was conceived and developed into an immense organization by Madame Wallestein), serving on six or eight committees, becoming more and more interdependent as they worked for a common and unselfish cause; their circle of acquaintances and friends as well as their powers of usefulness, their independent characteristics which go so far toward the making of personality, rising higher and higher under the impetus of deprisoned tides until they flowed gently over the dam of the centuries; the flood, be it noted, taking possession of wide pastures heretofore sacred to man.
Naturally these women spent very little time at home; although, such is the incomparable training of those practical methodical minds, even with a diminished staff of servants the domestic machinery ran as smoothly as when they devoted to it so many superfluous hours.
And with these new acquaintances, all practically of their own class, they talked in time not only of the war and their ever augmenting duties, but, barriers lowered by their active sympathies, found themselves taking a deep interest in other lives, and in the things that had interested other women of more intelligence or of more diversified interests than their own.
Insensibly life changed, quite apart from the rude shocks of war; lines were confused, old ideals were analyzed in many instances as hoary conventions, which had decayed inside until a succession of sharp quick contacts caused the shell to cave in upon emptiness.
A year passed. During that time husbands did not return from the front unless ill or maimed (and thousands of husbands are even to-day quite intact). Then came Chapter Two of the domestic side of the War, which should be called “Les Permissionnaires.” Officers and soldiers were allowed a six days’ leave of absence from the front at stated intervals.
The wives were all excitement and hope. They snatched time to replenish their wardrobes, and once more the thousand corridors of the Galeries Lafayette swarmed, the dressmakers breathed again. Shop windows blossomed with all the delicate fripperies with which a Frenchwoman can make old garments look new. Hotel keepers emerged from their long night like hibernates that had overslept, and rubbing their hands. The men were coming back. Paris would live again. And Paris, the coquette of all the ages, forgot her new rôle of lady of sorrows and smiled once more.
The equally eager husband (to pass over “les autres”) generally sneaked into his house or apartment by the back stairs and into the bathtub before he showed himself to his adoring family; but after those first strenuous hours of scrubbing and disinfecting and shaving, and getting into a brand new uniform of becoming horizon blue, there followed hours of rejoicing unparalleled by anything but a victory over “Les Boches.”
For two days husband and wife talked as incessantly as only Gauls can; but by degrees a puzzled look contracted the officer’s brow, gradually deepening into a frown. His fluent wife, whose animation over trifles had always been a source of infinite refreshment, was talking of things which he, after a solid year of monotonous warfare far from home, knew nothing. He cared to know less. He wanted the old exchange of personalities, the dear domestic gabble.
The wife meanwhile was heroically endeavoring to throw off a feeling of intolerable ennui. How was it that never before had she found the hearthstone dull? The conversation of her life partner (now doubly honored) induced a shameful longing for the seventh day.
So it was. During that year these two good people had grown apart. The wife’s new friends bored the husband, and the gallant soldier’s stories of life at the Front soon became homogeneous. Whether he will accept his wife’s enlarged circle and new interests after the war is over is one of the problems, but nothing is less likely than that she will rebuild the dam, recall the adventurous waters of her personality, empty her new brain cells, no matter how much she may continue to love her husband and children.
Nor to give up her new power. In those divisions of the bourgeoisie where the wife is always the husband’s partner, following a custom of centuries, and who to-day is merely carrying on the business alone, there will be no surrender of responsibilities grown precious, no sense of apprehension of loss of personal power. But in those more leisured circles where, for instance, a woman has been for the first time complete mistress of all expenditures, domestic or administrative, and of her childrens’ destinies; has learned to think and act for herself as if she were widowed in fact; and in addition has cultivated her social sense to an extreme unprecedented in the entire history of the bourgeoisie, she will never return to the old status, even though she disdain feminism per se and continue to prefer her husband to other men—that is to say, to find him more tolerable.
A young woman of this class, who until the war widowed her had been as happy as she was favored by fortune: wealthy, well-bred, brilliantly educated, and “elle et lui” with her husband, told me that no American could understand the peculiarly intensive life led by a French couple who found happiness in each other and avoided the fast sets. And whereas what she told me would have seemed natural enough in the life of a petite bourgeoisie, I must confess I was amazed to have it from the lips of a clever and beautiful young woman whom life had pampered until death broke loose in Europe.
The husband, she told me, did the thinking. Before he left home in the morning he asked his wife what she intended to order for dinner and altered the menu to his liking; also the list of guests, if it had been thought well to vary their charming routine with a select company.
Before his wife bought a new gown she submitted the style and colors to what seems literally to have been her other half, and he solemnly pondered over both before pronouncing his august and final opinion.
If they had children, the interest was naturally extended. His concern in health and in illness, in play and in study, was nothing short of meticulous. I asked my informant if Frenchwomen would ever again submit to a man’s making such an infernal nuisance of himself, and, sad as she still was at her own great loss, she replied positively that they would not. They had tasted independence and liked it too well ever to drop back into insignificance.
“Nor,” she added, “will we be content with merely social and domestic life in the future. We will love our home life none the less, but we must always work at something now; only those who have lost their health, or are natural parasites will ever again be content to live without some vital personal interest outside the family.”
Words of tremendous import to France, those.
I caught a glimpse more than once of the complete submergence of certain Frenchwomen by husbands too old for war, but important in matters of State. They bored me so that I only escaped betraying acute misery by summoning all my powers of resistance and talking against time until I could make a graceful exit. They were, these women (who looked quite happy), mere echoes of the men to whom their eyes wandered in admiration and awe. The last thing I had imagined, however, was that the men would concern themselves about details that, in Anglo-Saxon countries at least, have for centuries been firmly relegated to the partner of the second part. How many American women drive their husbands to the club by their incessant drone about the iniquities of servants and the idiosyncrasies of offspring?
And much as the women of our race may resent that their rôle in matrimony is the one of petty detail while the man enjoys the “broader interests,” I think few of us would exchange our lot for one of constant niggling interference. It induces a certain pleasure to reflect that so many Frenchwomen have reformed. Frenchmen, with all their conservatism, are the quickest of wit, the most supple of intellect in the world. No doubt after a few birth-pains they will conform, and enjoy life more than ever. Perhaps, also, they will cease to prowl abroad for secret entertainment.
Nothing, it is safe to say, since the war broke out, has so astonished Frenchwomen—those that loved their husbands and those that loved their lovers—as the discovery that they find life quite full and interesting without men. At the beginning all their faculties were put to so severe a strain that they had no time to miss them; as France settled down to a state of war, and life was in a sense normal again, it was only at first they missed the men—quite aside from their natural anxieties. But as time went on and there was no man always coming in, husband or lover, no man to dress for, scheme for, exercise their imaginations to please, weep for when he failed to come, or lapsed from fever heat to that temperature which suggests exotic fevers, they missed him less and less.
Unexpected resources were developed. Their work, their many works, grew more and more absorbing. Gradually they realized that they were looking at life from an entirely different point of view.
Is the reign of the male in the old countries of Europe nearing its end, even as Kings and Kaisers are reluctantly approaching the vaults of history? An American woman married to a Frenchman said to me one day:
“Intelligent Frenchwomen complain to me that they never win anything on their merits. They must exert finesse, seduction, charm, magnetism. For this reason they are always in a state of apprehension that some other woman equally feminine, but more astute and captivating, will win their man away. The result is the intense and unremitting jealousies in French society. They see in this war their opportunity to show men not only their powers of individual usefulness, often equal if not superior to that of their husband or lover, but their absolute indispensability. They are determined to win respect as individuals, rise above the rank of mere females.”
Moreover, this war is bringing a liberty to the French girl which must sometimes give her the impression that she is living in a fantastic dream. Young people already had begun to rebel at the old order of matrimonial disposition by parental authority, but it is doubtful if they will ever condescend to argument again, or even to the old formal restrictions during the period of the long engagement. Not only will husbands be too scarce to dicker about, but these girls, too, are living their own lives, going to and coming from hospital work daily (unless at the Front), spending long hours by convalescent cots, corresponding with filleuls, attending half a dozen clubs for work; above all, entertaining their brothers’ friend during those oases known as permission, or six days’ leave. And very often the friends of their brothers are young men of a lower rank in life, whose valor or talents in the field have given them a quick promotion.
The French army is the one perfect democracy in the world. Its men, from duke to peasant-farmer, have a contemptuous impatience for social pretense when about the business of war, and recognition is swift and practical. As the young men of the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie have lost more and more of their old friends they have replaced them with men they like for good masculine reasons alone, and these they have taken to bringing home, when permissionnaires at the same time. Nothing can be more certain than that girls, once haughty and exacting, will marry these young men and be glad to get them.
A student of his race said to me one day: “France is the most conservative country in Europe. She goes on doing the same thing generation after generation paying no attention to rebellious mutters, hardly hearing them in fact. She believes herself to have been moulded and solidified long since. Then, presto! Something sudden and violent happens. Old ideas are uprooted. New ones planted. Is there a struggle? Not for a moment. They turn an intellectual somersault and are immediately as completely at home with the new as the old.”
During the second year of the war a feminist was actually invited to address the graduation class of a fashionable girls’ school. She told them that the time had come when girls of all classes should be trained to earn their living. This war had demonstrated the uncertainty of human affairs. Not a family in France, not even the haute finance, but would have a curtailed income for years to come, and many girls of good family could no longer count on a dot if the war lasted much longer. Then there was the decrease in men. Better go out into the world and make any sort of respectable career than be an old maid at home. She gave them much practical advice, told them that one of the most lucrative employments was retouching photographs, and implored them to cultivate any talent they might have and market it as soon as possible.
The girls sat throughout this discourse as stunned as if a bomb had dropped on the roof. They were still discussing it when I left Paris. No doubt it is already beginning to bear fruit. Few of them but have that most dismal of all fireside ornaments, a half-effaced old-maid sister, one of the most tragic and pitiable objects in France. The noble attributes which her drab and eventless life sometimes leave un-withered were superbly demonstrated to the American audience some years ago by Nance O’Neil in “The Lily.”
One of the new officers I happened to hear of was a farmer who not only won the Croix de Guerre and the Croix de la Legion d’Honneur very early in the war but rose in rank until, when I heard the story, he was a major. One day a brother officer asked him if he should remain in the army after peace was declared.
“No,” he replied, and it was evident that he had thought the matter over. “My wife is not a lady. She is wholly unfitted to take her place in the officers’ class. There is no democracy among women. Better for us both that I return whence I came.”
This is a fair sample of the average Frenchman’s ironic astuteness, that clear practical vision that sees life without illusions. But if the war should drag on for years the question is, would he be willing to surrender the position of authority to which he had grown accustomed, and which satisfies the deepest instincts of a man’s nature after youth has passed? After all there may be a new “officers’ class.”
I heard another story, told me by a family doctor, equally interesting. The son of a wealthy and aristocratic house and his valet were mobilized at the same time. The young patrician was a good and a gallant soldier but nothing more. The valet discovered extraordinary capacities. Not only did he win the coveted medals in the course of the first few months, but when his shattered regiment under fire in the open was deprived of its officers he took command and led the remnant to victory. A few more similar performances proving that his usefulness was by no means the result of the moment’s exaltation but of real however unsuspected gifts, he was rapidly promoted until he was captain of his former employer’s company. There appears to have been no mean envy in the nature of the less fortunate aristocrat. Several times they have received their permission together and he has taken his old servant home with him and given him the seat of honor at his own table. His mother and sisters have made no demur whatever, but are proud that their ménage should have given a fine soldier to France. Perhaps only the noblesse who are unalterably sure of themselves would have been capable of rising above the age-old prejudices of caste, war or no war.
French women rarely emigrate. Never, if they can help it. Our servant question may be solved after the war by the manless women of other races, but the Frenchwoman will stay in her country, if possible in her home. All girls, the major part of the young widows (who have created a panic among the little spinsters) will marry if they can, not only because marriage is still the normal career of woman but because of their sense of duty to the State. But that social France after the war will bear more than a family resemblance to the France that reached the greatest climax in her history on August second, nineteen-fourteen, has ceased to be a matter of speculation.
* * *
Although I went to France to examine the work of the Frenchwomen only, it would be ungracious, as well as a disappointment to many readers, not to give the names at least of some of the many American women who live in France or who spend a part of the year there and are working as hard as if this great afflicted country were their own. Some day their names will be given to the world in a full roll of honor. I do not feel sure that I know of half of them, but I have written down all I can recall. The list, of course, does not include the names of Americans married to Frenchmen:
Mrs. Sharp, Miss Anne Morgan, Mrs. Tuck, Mrs. Bliss, Miss Elisabeth Marbury, Miss Elsie de Wolfe, Mrs. Robert Bacon, Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt, Mrs. Whitney Warren, Mrs. Wharton, Mrs. Canfield Fisher, Miss Grace Ellery Channing, Mrs. Blake, Mrs. Carroll of Carrollton, Mrs. Sherman, Mrs. Cooper Hewett, Miss Holt, Mrs. William H. Hill, Mrs. Shaw, Mrs. Frederick H. Allen, Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, Miss Fairchild, Mrs. Younger, Mrs. Morton Mitchell, Mrs. Fleury, Mrs. Sales, Mrs. Hyde, Mrs. William Astor Chanler, Mrs. Ridgeley Carter, Miss Ethel Crocker, Miss Daisy Polk, Miss Janet Scudder, Mrs. Lathrop, Miss Vail, Mrs. Samuel Watson, Mrs. Armstrong Whitney, Mrs. Lawrence Slade, Miss Yandell, Mrs. Greene, Mrs. Duryea, Mrs. Depew, Mrs. Marion Crocker, Miss Mary Eyre, Mrs. Gros, Mrs. Van Heukelom, Mrs. Tarn McGrew, Mrs. Schoninger, Miss Grace Lounsbery, Mrs. Lawrence, the Princess Poniatowska, and Isadora Duncan.
Book II • Feminism in Peace and War
It is possible that if the European War had been averted the history of Feminism would have made far different reading—say fifty years hence. The militant suffragettes of England had degenerated from something like real politicians into mere neurasthenics and not only had lost what little chance they seemed for a time to have of being taken seriously by the British Government, but had very nearly alienated the many thousands of women without the ranks that were wavering in the balance. This was their most serious mistake, for the chief handicap of the militants had been that too few women were disposed toward suffrage, or even interested. The history of the world shows that when any large body of people in a community want anything long enough and hard enough, and go after it with practical methods, they obtain it in one form or another. But the women of Britain as well as the awakening women of other nations east and west of the Atlantic, were so disgusted and alarmed by this persisting lack of self-control in embryonic politicians of their sex that they voted silently to preserve their sanity under the existing régime. It has formed one of the secret sources of the strength of the antis, that fear of the complete demoralization of their sex if freed from the immemorial restraints imposed by man.
This attitude of mind does not argue a very distinguished order of reasoning powers or of clear thinking; but then not too many men, in spite of their centuries of uninterrupted opportunity, face innovations or radical reforms with unerring foresight. There is a strong conservative instinct in the average man or woman, born of the hereditary fear of life, that prompts them to cling to old standards, or, if too intelligent to look inhospitably upon progress, to move very slowly. Both types are the brakes and wheel-horses necessary to a stable civilization, but history, even current history in the newspapers, would be dull reading if there were no adventurous spirits willing to do battle for new ideas. The militant women of England would have accomplished wonders if their nervous systems had not broken down under the prolonged strain.
It is probable that after this war is over the women of the belligerent nations will be given the franchise by the weary men that are left, if they choose to insist upon it. They have shown the same bravery, endurance, self-sacrifice, resource, and grim determination as the men. In every war, it may be argued, women have displayed the same spirit and the same qualities, proving that they needed but the touchstone of opportunity to reveal the splendor of their endowment, but treated by man, as soon as peace was restored, as the same old inferior annex.
This is true enough, but the point of difference is that never, prior to the Great War, was such an enormous body of women awake after the lethargic submission of centuries, and clamoring for their rights. Never before have millions of women been supporting themselves; never before had they even contemplated organization and the direct political attack. Of course the women of Europe, exalted and worked half to death, have, with the exception of a few irrepressibles, put all idea of self-aggrandizement aside for the moment; but this idea had grown too big and too dominant to be dismissed for good and all, with last year’s fashions and the memory of delicate plats prepared by chefs now serving valiantly within the lines. The big idea, the master desire, the obsession, if you like, is merely taking an enforced rest, and there is persistent speculation as to what the thinking and the energetic women of Europe will do when this war is over, and how far men will help or hinder them.
I have written upon this question in its bearings upon the women of France more fully in another chapter; but it may be stated here that such important feminists as Madame Vérone, the eminent avocat, and Mlle. Valentine Thompson, the youngest but one of the ablest of the leaders, while doing everything to help and nothing to embarrass their Government, never permit the question to recede wholly to the background. Mlle. Thompson argues that the men in authority should not be permitted for a moment to forget, not the services of women in this terrible chapter of France’s destiny, for that is a matter of course, as ever, but the marked capabilities women have shown when suddenly thrust into positions of authority. In certain invaded towns the wives of imprisoned or executed Mayors have taken their place almost automatically and served with a capacity unrelated to sex. In some of these towns women have managed the destinies of the people since the first month of the war, understanding them as no man has ever done, and working harder than most men are ever willing to work. Thousands have, under the spur, developed unsuspected capacities, energies, endurance, above all genuine executive abilities. That these women should be swept back into private life by the selfishness of men when the killing business is over, is, to Mlle. Thompson’s mind, unthinkable. In her newspaper, La Vie Feminine, she gives weekly instances of the resourcefulness and devotion of French womanhood, and although the women of her country have never taken as kindly to the idea of demanding the franchise as those of certain other nations, still it is more than possible that she will make many converts before the war is over.
These are not to be “suffrage” chapters. There is no doubt in my mind that the women of all nations will have the franchise eventually, if only because it is ridiculous that they should be permitted to work like men (often supporting husbands, fathers, brothers) and not be permitted all the privileges of men. Man, who grows more enlightened every year—often sorely against his will—must appreciate this anomaly in due course, and by degrees will surrender the franchise as freely to women as he has to negroes and imbeciles. When women have received the vote for which they have fought and bled, they will use it with just about the same proportion of conscientiousness and enthusiasm as busy men do. One line in the credo might have been written of human nature A.D. 1914-1917: “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”
But while suffrage and feminism are related, they are far from identical. Suffrage is but a milestone in feminism, which may be described as the more or less concerted sweep of women from the backwaters into the broad central stream of life. Having for untold centuries given men to the world they now want the world from men. There is no question in the progressive minds of both sexes that, outside of the ever-recurrent war zones, they should hereafter divide the great privileges of life and civilization in equal shares with men.
Several times before in the history of the world comparatively large numbers of women have made themselves felt, claiming certain equal rights with the governing sex. But their ambitions were generally confined to founding religious orders, obtaining admission to the universities, or to playing the intellectual game in the social preserves. In the wonderful thirteenth century women rivaled men in learning and accomplishments, in vigor of mind and decision of character. But this is the first time that millions of them have been out in the world “on their own,” invading almost every field of work, for centuries sacrosanct to man. There is even a boiler-maker in the United States who worked her way up in poor-boy fashion and now attends conventions of boiler-makers on equal terms. In tens of thousands of cases women have made good, in the arts, professions, trades, businesses, clerical positions, and even in agriculture and cattle raising. They are brilliant aviators, yachtsmen, automobile drivers, showing failure of nerve more rarely than men, although, as they are not engaged in these pursuits in equal numbers perhaps that is not a fair statement. Suffice it to say that as far as they have gone they have asked for no quarter. It is quite true that in certain of the arts, notably music, they have never equaled men, and it has been held against them that all the great chefs are men. Here it is quite justifiable to take refuge in the venerable axiom, “Rome was not made in a day.” It is not what they have failed to accomplish with their grinding disabilities but the amazing number of things in which they have shown themselves the equal if not the superior of men. Whether their success is to be permanent, or whether they have done wisely in invading man’s domain so generally, are questions to be attacked later when considering the biological differences between men and women. The most interesting problem relating to women that confronts us at present is the effect of the European War on the whole status of woman.
If the war ends before this nation is engulfed we shall at least keep our men, and the males of this country are so far in excess of the females that it is odd so many American women should be driven to self-support. In Great Britain the women have long outnumbered the men; it was estimated before the war that there were some three hundred thousand spinsters for whom no husbands were available. After the war there will be at best something like a proportion of one whole man to three women (confining these unwelcome prophecies to people of marriageable age); and the other afflicted countries, with the possible exception of Russia, will show a similar dislocation of the normal balance. The acute question will be repopulation—with a view to another trial of military supremacy a generation hence!—and all sorts of expedients are being suggested, from polygamy to artificial fertilization. It may be that the whole future of woman as well as of civilization after this war is over depends upon whether she concludes to serve the State or herself.
While in France in the summer of 1916, I heard childless women say: “Would that I had six sons to give to France!” I heard unmarried women say: “Thank heaven I never married!” I heard bitterness expressed by bereft mothers, terror and despair by others when the curtain had rung down and they could relax the proud and smiling front they presented to the world. Not one would have had her son shirk his duty, nor asked for compromise with the enemy, but all prayed for the war to end. It is true that these men at the front are heroes in the eyes of their women, worshiped by the majority when they come home briefly as permissionnaires, and it is also true that France is an old military nation and that the brain-cells of its women are full of ancestral memories of war. But never before have women done as much thinking for themselves as they are doing to-day, as they had done for some fifteen or twenty years before the war. That war has now lasted almost three years. During this long and terrible period there has been scarcely a woman in France, as in Britain, Russia, Italy, Germany, who has not done her share behind the lines, working, at her self-appointed tasks or at those imposed by the Government, for months on end without a day of rest. They have had contacts that never would have approached them otherwise, they have been obliged to think for themselves, for thousands of helpless poor, for the men at the Front. The Frenchwomen particularly have forced men to deal with them as human beings and respect them as such, dissipating in some measure those mists of sex through which the Frenchman loves to stalk in search of the elusive and highly-sophisticated quarry. As long as a woman was sexually attractive she could never hope to meet man on an equal footing, no matter how entrancing he might find her mental qualities. She must play hide-and-seek, exercise finesse, seduction, keep the flag of sex flying ever on the ramparts. It is doubtful if Frenchmen will change in this respect, but it is more than doubtful if women do not.
There is hardly any doubt that if this war lasts long enough women for the first time in the history of civilization will have it in their power to seize one at least of the world’s reins. But will they do it—I am now speaking of women in mass, not of the advanced thinkers, or of women of the world who have so recently ascertained that there is a special joy in being free of the tyranny of sex, a tyranny that emanated no less from within than without.
It is to be imagined that all the men who are fighting in this most trying of all wars are heroes in the eyes of European women—as well they may be—and that those who survive are likely to be regarded with a passionate admiration not unmixed with awe. The traditional weakness of women where men are concerned (which after all is but a cunning device of Nature) may swamp their great opportunity. They may fight over the surviving males like dogs over a bone, marry with sensations of profound gratitude (or patriotic fervor) the armless, the legless, the blind, the terrible face mutilés, and drop forever out of the ranks of Woman as differentiated from the ranks of mere women. What has hampered the cause of Woman in Great Britain and Europe so far is the quite remarkable valuation put upon the male by the female. This is partly temperamental, partly female preponderance, but it is even more deeply rooted in those vanished centuries during which man proclaimed and maintained his superiority. Circumstances helped him for thousands of years, and he has been taken by the physically weaker and child-bearing sex at his own estimate. It is difficult for American women to appreciate this almost servile attitude of even British women to mere man. One of the finest things about the militant woman, one by which she scored most heavily, was her flinging off of this tradition and displaying a shining armor of indifference toward man as man. This startled the men almost as much as the window smashing, and made other women, living out their little lives under the frowns and smiles of the dominant male, think and ponder, wonder if their small rewards amounted to half as much as the untasted pleasures of power and independence.
It is always a sign of weakness to give one side of a picture and blithely ignore the other. Therefore, let me hasten to add that it is a well-known fact that Mrs. Pankhurst had borne and reared six children before she took up the moribund cause of suffrage; and that after a season’s careful investigation in London at the height of the militant movement I concluded that never in the world had so many unattractive females been banded together in any one cause. Even the young girls I heard speaking on street corners, mounted on boxes, looked gray, dingy, sexless. Of course there were many handsome, even lovely, women,—like Mrs. Cavendish-Bentinck and Lady Hall, for instance—interested in “the movement,” contributing funds, and giving it a certain moral support; but when it came to the window smashers, the jail seekers, the hunger-strikers, the real martyrs of that extraordinary minor chapter of England’s history, there was only one good-looking woman in the entire army—Mrs. Pethick-Lawrence—and militant extravagances soon became too much for her. There were intelligent women galore, women of the aristocracy born with a certain style, and showing their breeding even on the soap-box, but sexually attractive women never, and even the youngest seemed to have been born without the bloom of youth. The significance of this, however, works both ways. If men did not want them, at least there was something both noble and pitiful in their willingness to sacrifice those dreams and hopes which are the common heritage of the lovely and the plain, the old and the young, the Circe and the Amazon, to the ultimate freedom of those millions of their sisters lulled or helpless in the enchanted net of sex.
It is doubtful if even the militants can revert to their former singleness of purpose; after many months, possibly years, of devotion to duty, serving State and man, the effacement of self, appreciation of the naked fact that the integrity of their country matters more than anything else on earth, they may be quite unable to rebound to their old fanatical attitude toward suffrage as the one important issue of the Twentieth Century. Even the very considerable number of those women that have reached an appearance which would eliminate them from the contest over such men as are left may be so chastened by the hideous sufferings they have witnessed or heard of daily, so moved by the astounding endurance and grim valor of man (who nearest approaches to godhood in time of war) that they will have lost the disposition to tear from him the few compensations the new era of peace can offer. If that is the case, if women at the end of the war are soft, completely rehabilitated in that femininity, or femaleness, which was their original endowment from Nature, the whole great movement will subside, and the work must begin over again by unborn women and their accumulated grievances some fifty years hence.
Nothing is more sure than that Nature will take advantage of the lull to make a desperate attempt to recover her lost ground. Progressive women, and before the war their ranks were recruited daily, were one of the most momentous results of the forces of the higher civilization, an evolution that in Nature’s eye represented a lamentable divergence from type. Here is woman, with all her physical disabilities, become man’s rival in all of the arts, save music, and in nearly all of the productive walks of life, as well as in a large percentage of the professional and executive; intellectually the equal if not the superior of the average man—who in these days, poor devil, is born a specialist—and making a bold bid for political equality.
It has been a magnificent accomplishment, and it has marked one of the most brilliant and picturesque milestones in human progress. It seems incredible that woman, in spite of the tremendous pressure that Nature will put upon her, may revert weakly to type. The most powerful of all the forces working for Nature and against feminism will be the quite brutal and obscene naturalness of war, and the gross familiarity of civilization with it for so long a period. There is reversion to type with a vengeance! The ablest of the male inheritors of the accumulated wisdom and experiences and civilizing influences of the ages were in power prior to August 1914, and not one of them nor all combined had the foresight to circumvent, or the diplomatic ingenuity to keep in leash the panting Hun. They are settling their scores, A.D. 1914-1917, by brute fighting. There has been some brain work during this war so far, but a long sight more brute work. As it was in the beginning, etc.
And the women, giving every waking hour to ameliorating the lot of the defenders of their hearth and their honor, or nursing the wounded in hospital, have been stark up against the physical side: whether making bombs in factories, bandages or uniforms, washing gaping wounds, preparing shattered bodies for burial, or listening to the horrid tales of men and women home on leave.
The European woman, in spite of her exalted pitch, is living a more or less mechanical life at present. Even where she has revealed unsuspected creative ability, as soon as her particular task is mapped she subsides into routine. As a rule she is quite automatically and naturally performing those services and duties for which Nature so elaborately equipped her, ministering to man almost exclusively, even when temporarily filling his place in the factory and the tram-car.Dienen! Dienen! is the motto of one and all of these Kundrys, whether they realize it or not, and it is on the cards that they may never again wish to somersault back to that mental attitude where they would dominate not serve.
On the other hand civilization may for once prove stronger than Nature. Thinking women—and there are a few hundred thousands of them—may emerge from this hideous reversion of Europe to barbarism with an utter contempt for man. They may despise the men of affairs for muddling Europe into the most terrible war in history, in the very midst of the greatest civilization of which there is any record. They may experience a secret but profound revulsion from the men wallowing in blood and filth for months on end, living only to kill. The fact that the poor men can’t help it does not alter the case. The women can’t help it either. Women have grown very fastidious. The sensual women and the quite unimaginative women will not be affected, but how about the others? And only men of the finest grain survive a long period of war with the artificial habits of civilization strong upon them.
The end of this war may mark a conclusive revulsion of the present generation of European women from men that may last until they have passed the productive age. Instead of softening, disintegrating back to type, they may be insensibly hardening inside a mould that will eventually cast them forth a more definite third sex than any that threatened before the war. Woman, blind victim of the race as she has been for centuries, seldom in these days loves without an illusion of the senses or of the imagination. She has ceased, in the wider avenues of life, lined as they are with the opulent wares of twentieth century civilization, to be merely the burden-bearing and reproductive sex. Life has taught her the inestimable value of illusions, and the more practical she becomes, the more she cherishes this divine gift. It is possible that man has forfeited his power to cast a glamour over all but the meanest types of women. If that should be the case women will ask: Why settle down and keep house for the tiresome creatures, study their whims, and meekly subside into the second place, or be eternally on the alert for equal rights? As for children? Let the state suffer for its mistakes. Why bring more children into the world to be blown to pieces on the field of battle, or a burden to their women throughout interminable years? No! For a generation at least the world shall be ours, and then it may limp along with a depleted population or go to the dogs.
Few, no doubt, will reason it out as elaborately as this or be so consciously ruthless, but a large enough number are likely enough to bring the light of their logic to bear upon the opportunity, and a still larger number to feel an obscure sense of revolt against man for his failure to uphold civilization against the Prussian anachronism, combined with a more definite desire for personal liberty. And both of these divisions of their sex are likely to alter the course of history—far more radically than has ever happened before at the close of any fighting period. Even the much depended upon maternal instinct may subside, partly under the horrors of field hospitals where so many mother’s sons are ghastly wrecks, partly under a heavy landslide of disgust that the sex that has ruled the world should apparently be so helpless against so obscene a fate.
They will reflect that if women are weak (comparatively) physically, there is all the more hope they may develop into giants mentally; one of man’s handicaps being that his more highly vitalized body with its coercive demands, is ever waging war with a consistent and complete development of the mind. And in these days, when the science of the body is so thoroughly understood, any woman, unless afflicted with an organic disease, is able to keep her brain constantly supplied with red unpoisoned blood, and may wax in mental powers (there being no natural physical deteriorations in the brain as in the body) so long as life lasts.
Certainly these women will say: We could have done no worse than these chess players of Europe and we might have done better. Assuredly if we grasp and hold the reins of the world there will never be another war. We are not, in the first place, as greedy as men; we will divide the world up in strict accordance with race, and let every nation have its own place in the sun. Commercial greed has no place in our make-up, and with the hideous examples of history it will never obtain entrance.
How often has it been the cynical pleasure of mere ministers of state to use kings as pawns? Well, we despise the game. Also, we shall have no kings, and republics are loth to make war. Our instincts are humanitarian. We should like to see all the world as happy as that lovely countryside of Northeastern France before August 1914. We at least recognize that the human mind is as yet imperfectly developed; and if, instead of setting the world back periodically, and drenching mankind in misery, we would have all men and women as happy as human nature will permit, we should devote our abilities, uninterrupted by war, to solving the problem of poverty (the acutest evidence of man’s failure), and to fostering the talents of millions of men and women that to-day constitute a part of the wastage of Earth. Of course, being mortal, we shall make mistakes, give way, no doubt, to racial jealousies, and personal ambitions; but our eyes have been opened wide by this war and it is impossible that we should make the terrible mistakes we inevitably would have made had we obtained power before we had seen and read its hideous revelations—day after day, month after month, year after year! It is true that men have made these resolutions many times, but men have too much of the sort of blood that goes to the head, and their lust for money is even greater than their lust for power.
Now, this may sound fantastic but it is indisputably probable. Much has been said of the patriotic exaltation of young women during war and just after its close, which leads them to marry almost any one in order to give a son to the state, or even to dispense with the legal formality. But although I heard a great deal of that sort of talk during the first months of the war I don’t hear so much of it now. Nor did I hear anything like as much of it in France as I expected. To quote one woman of great intelligence with whom I talked many times, and who is one of the Government’s chosen aids; she said one day, “It was a terrible distress to me that I had only one child, and I consulted every specialist in France. Now I am thankful that I did have but one son to come home to me with a gangrene wound, and then, after months of battling for his life, to insist upon going back to the Front and exposing it every day. I used to feel sad, too, that Valentine Thompson” (who is not only beautiful but an Amazon in physique) “did not marry and be happy like other girls, instead of becoming a public character and working at first one scheme or another for the amelioration of the lot of woman. Now, I am thankful that she never married. Her father is too old to go to war and she has neither husband nor son to agonize over. Far better she live the life of usefulness she does than deliberately take upon herself the common burdens of women.” No Frenchwoman could be more patriotic than the one who made this speech to me, and if she had had many sons she would have girded them all for war, but she had suffered too much herself and she saw too much suffering among her friends daily, not to hate the accursed institution of war, and wish that as many women could be spared its brutal impositions as possible.
Nobody has ever accused me of being a Pacifist. Personally, I think that every self-respecting nation on the globe should have risen in 1914 and assisted the Allies to blast Prussia off the face of the Earth, but after this war is over if the best brains in these nations do not at once get to work and police the world against future wars, it will be a matter for regret that they were not all on the German ship when she foundered.
It is to be remembered that woman has, in her subconscious brain-cells, ancestral memories of the Matriarchate. It is interesting to quote in this connection what Patrick Geddes and G. Arthur Thompson have to say on the mooted question of the Mother-Age:
“Prehistoric history is hazardous, but there is a good case to be made out for a Mother-Age. This has been reconstructed from fossils in the folk lore of agriculture and housewifery, in old customs, ceremonies, festivals, games; in myths and fairy tales and age-worn words.
“Professor Karl Pierson finds in the study of witchcraft some of the fossils that point back to the Matriarchate. In the older traditions ‘the witch resumes her old position as the wise-woman, the medicine woman, the leader of the people, the priestess.’ ‘We have accordingly to look upon the witch as essentially the degraded form of the old priestess, cunning in the knowledge of herbs and medicine, jealous of the rights and of the goddess she serves, and preserving in spells and incantations such wisdom as early civilization possessed.’
“The witch’s weather wisdom is congruent with the fact that women were the earliest agriculturists; her knowledge of herbs with that of the ancient medicine women; her diablerie with that of the ancient group relations of the sexes so different from what we call marriage to-day; her nocturnal dances with the ancient choruses of marriage-ripe maidens. The authority and magic circle kept by the broom are those of the hearth and floor in her primeval roundhut; and her distaff and pitchfork, her caldron, her cat and dog, are all in keeping with the rôle of woman in the Mother-Age.
“But there is another way, and that certainly not less reliable, by which we can arrive at some understanding of the Mother-Age, and how it naturally came about, namely, by a study of our ‘contemporary ancestors,’ of people who linger on the matriarchal level. Such people, as well as others on the still lower nomad stage of civilization, are to be found at this day in Australia.
“While the purely nomad stage lasted, little progress could be made, because the possessions of a group were limited by the carrying powers of its members. But in a favorite forest spot a long halt was possible, the mothers were able to drop their babies and give a larger part of their attention to food-getting. As before, the forest products—roots and fruits—were gathered in, but more time and ingenuity were expended in making them palatable and in storing them for future use. The plants in the neighborhood, which were useful for food or for their healing properties, were tended and kept free of weeds, and by and by seeds of them were sown in cleared ground within easy reach of the camp. Animals gathered about the rich food area, and were at first tolerated—certain negro tribes to-day keep hens about their huts, though they eat neither them nor their eggs—and later encouraged as a stable source of food-supply. The group was anchored to one spot by its increasing possessions; and thus home-making, gardening, medicine, the domestication of animals and even agriculture, were fairly begun. Not only were all these activities in the hands of women, but to them, too, were necessarily left the care and training of the young.
“The men meanwhile went away on warlike expeditions against other groups, and on long hunting and fishing excursions, from which they returned with their spoils from time to time, to be welcomed by the women with dancing and feasting. Hunting and war were their only occupations, and the time between expeditions was spent in resting and in interminable palavers and dances, which we may perhaps look upon as the beginnings of parliaments and music halls.
“Whether this picture be accurate in detail or not there is at any rate a considerable body of evidence pointing to the ‘Matriarchate’ as a period during which women began medicine, the domestication of the smaller animals, the cultivation of vegetables, flax and corn, the use of the distaff, the spindle, the broom, the fire-rake and the pitchfork.
“In the Mother-Age the inheritance of property passed through the mother; the woman gave the children her own name; husband and father were in the background—often far from individualized; the brother and uncle were much more important; the woman was the depository of custom, lore, and religious tradition; she was, at least, the nominal head of the family, and she had a large influence in tribal affairs.”
For some years past certain progressive women have shown signs of a reversion to the matriarchal state—or shall we say a disposition to revive it? In spite of human progress we travel more or less in circles, a truth of which the present war and its reversions is the most uncompromising example.
In the married state, for instance, these women have retained their own name, not even being addressed as Mrs., that after all is a polite variation of the Spanish “de,” which does not by any means indicate noble birth alone, women after marriage proudly announcing themselves as legally possessed. For instance a girl whose name has been Elena Lopez writes herself after marriage Elena Lopez de Morena, the “de” in this case standing for “property of.” It will be some time before the women of Spain travel far on the Northern road toward pride in sex deliverance, but with us, and in Britain, the custom is growing prevalent.
Then there is the hyphen marriage, more common still, in which the woman retains her own name, but condescends to annex the man’s. Once in a way a man will prefix his wife’s name to his own, and there is one on record who prefixed his own to his wife’s. But any woman may have her opinion of him.
So far as I have been able to ascertain these marriages are quite as successful as the average; and if the woman has a career on hand—and she generally has—she pursues it unhampered. The grandmother or aunt takes charge of the children, if there are any, while she is at her duties without the home, and so far, the husband has been permitted the compensation of endowing the children with his name.
The reversion to the prehistoric matriarchate can hardly be complete in these days, but there are many significant straws that indicate the rising of a new wind blown by ancient instincts. To look upon them as shockingly advanced or abnormal is an evidence of conservatism that does not reach quite far enough into the past.
A still more significant sign of the times (in the sense of linking past with present) is the ever-increasing number of women doctors and their success. Men for the most part have ceased to sneer or even to be more than humanly jealous, often speaking in terms of the warmest admiration not only of their skill but of their conscientiousness and power of endurance. When I went to live in Munich (1903) a woman surgeon was just beginning to practice. This, to Germany, was an innovation with a vengeance, and the German male is the least tolerant of female encroachment within his historic preserves. The men practitioners threw every possible obstacle in her way, and with no particular finesse. But nothing could daunt her, and two or three years later she was riding round in her car—a striking red one—while the major number of her rivals were still dependent upon the ambling cab-horse, directed off and on by a fat driver who was normally asleep. Jealousy, however, for the most part had merged into admiration; for your average male, of whatever race, is not only philosophical but bows to success; she was both recognized and called in for consultation. Hang on! Hang on! should be the motto of all women determined to make their mark in what is still a man’s world. Life never has denied her prizes to courage and persistence backed by ability.
A curious instance of man’s inevitable recognition of the places of responsibility women more and more are taking is in the new reading of the Income Tax papers for 1917. Heretofore only married men were exempted taxation on the first $4000 but from now on, apparently, women who are also “heads of families” are likewise favored. As thousands of women are supporting their aged parents, their brothers while studying, their children and even their husbands, who for one reason or other are unequal to the family strain, this exemption should have been made coincidentally with the imposing of the tax. But men are slow to see and slower still to act where women are concerned.
As we all know, women have invaded practically every art, trade, and industry, but—aside from the arts, for occasionally Nature is so impartial in her bestowal of genius that art is accepted as sexless—in no walk of life has woman been so uniformly successful as in medicine. This is highly significant in view of the fact that they invented and practiced it in the dawn of history, while man was too rudimentary to do anything but fight and fill the larder. It would seem that the biological differences between the male and the female which are so often the cause of woman’s failure in many spheres preëmpted throughout long centuries by man, is in her case counteracted not only by her ancestral inheritance, but by the high moral element without which no doctor or surgeon can long stand the exactions and strain of his terrible profession. No woman goes blithely into surgery or medicine merely to have a career or to make a living, although ten thousand girls to her one will essay to write, or paint, or clerk, or cultivate her bit of voice, with barely a thought expended upon her fitness or the obligations involved.
But the woman who deliberately enters the profession of healing has, almost invariably, a certain nobility of mind, a lack of personal selfishness, and a power of devotion to the race quite unknown to the average woman, even the woman of genius when seeking a career.
During the Great War there have been few women doctors at the Front, but hundreds of women nurses, and they have been as intrepid and useful as their rivals in sex. They alone, by their previous experience of human suffering, bad enough at best, were in a measure prepared for the horrors of war and the impotence of men laid low. But that will not restore any lost illusions, for they took masculine courage for granted with their mothers’ milk, and they cannot fail to be imbued to the marrow with a bitter sense of waste and futility, of the monstrous sacrifice of the best blood of their generation.
Certain doctors of England have gone on record as predicting a lamentable physical future for the army of women who are at present doing the heavy work of men, particularly in the munition factories. They say that the day-long tasks which involve incessant bending and standing and lifting of heavy weights will breed a terrible reaction when the war ends and these women are abruptly flung back into domestic life. There is almost no man’s place in the industrial world that English women are not satisfactorily filling, with either muscle or brains, and the doctors apprehend a new problem in many thousand neurotics or otherwise broken-down women at the close of the war. Although this painful result of women’s heroism would leave just that many women less to compete for the remaining men sound of wind and limb, still, if true, it raises the acute question: Are women the equal of men in all things? Their deliverance from the old marital fetish, and successful invasion of so many walks of life, have made such a noise in the world since woman took the bit between her teeth, more or less en masse, that the feministic pæan of triumph has almost smothered an occasional protest from those concerned with biology; but as a matter-of-fact statistics regarding the staying power of women in what for all the historic centuries have been regarded as avocations heaven-designed and with strict reference to the mental and physical equipment of man, are too contradictory to be of any value.
Therefore, the result of this prolonged strain on a healthy woman of a Northern race evidently predestined to be as public as their present accomplishment, will be awaited with the keenest interest, and no doubt will have an immense effect upon the future status of woman. She has her supreme opportunity, and if her nerves are equal to her nerve, her body to her spirit, if the same women are working at the severe tasks at the end of the war as during the first months of their exaltation, and instead of being wrecks are as hardened as the miserable city boys that have become wiry in the trenches—then, beyond all question woman will have come to her own and it will be for her, not for man, to say whether or not she shall subside and attend to the needs of the next generation.
Before I went to France in May 1916 I was inclined to believe that only a small percentage of women would stand the test; but since then I have seen hundreds of women at work in the munition factories of France. As I have told in another chapter, they had then been at work for some sixteen months, and, of poor physique in the beginning, were now strong healthy animals with no sign of breakdown. They were more satisfactory in every way than men, for they went home and slept all night, drank only the light wines of their country, smoked less, if at all, and had a more natural disposition toward cleanliness. Their bare muscular arms looked quite capable of laying a man prostrate if he came home and ordered them about, and their character and pride had developed in proportion.[F]Dr. Rosalie Morton, the leading woman doctor and surgeon of New York, who also studied this subject at first hand, agrees with me that the war tasks have improved the health of the European women.
It is not to be imagined, however, that the younger, at least, of these women will cling to those greasy jobs when the world is normal again and its tempered prodigals are spending money on the elegancies of life once more. And if they slump back into the sedentary life when men are ready to take up their old burdens, making artificial flowers, standing all day in the fetid atmosphere of crowded and noisy shops, stitching everlastingly at lingerie, there, it seems to me, lies the danger of breakdown. The life they lead now, arduous as it is, not only has developed their muscles, their lungs, the power to digest their food, but they are useful members of society on the grand scale, and to fall from any height is not conducive to the well-being of body or spirit. No doubt, when the sudden release comes, they will return to the lighter tasks with a sense of immense relief; but will it last? Will it be more than a momentary reaction to the habit of their own years and of the centuries behind, or will they gradually become aware (after they have rested and romped and enjoyed the old life in the old fashion when off duty) that with the inferior task they have become the inferior sex again. The wife, to be sure, will feel something more than her husband’s equal, and the Frenchwoman never has felt herself the inferior in the matrimonial partnership. But how about the wage earners? Those that made ten to fifteen francs a day in the Usines de Guerre, and will now be making four or five? How about the girls who cannot marry because their families are no longer in a position to pay the dot, without which no French girl dreams of marrying? These girls not only have been extraordinarily (for Frenchwomen of their class) affluent during the long period of the war, but they order men about, and they are further upheld with the thought that they are helping their beloved France to conquer the enemy. They live on another plane, and life is apt to seem very mean and commonplace under the old conditions.
That these women are not masculinized is proved by the fact that many have borne children during the second year of the war, their tasks being made lighter until they are restored to full strength again. They invariably return as soon as possible, however. It may be, of course, that the young men and women of the lower bourgeoisie will forswear the dot, for it would be but one more old custom giving way to necessity. In that case the sincere, hardworking and not very humorous women of this class no doubt would find full compensation in the home, and promptly do her duty by the State. But I doubt if any other alternative will console any but the poorest intelligence or the naturally indolent—and perhaps Frenchwomen, unless good old-fashioned butterflies, have less laziness in their make-up than any other women under the sun.
The natural volatility of the race must also be taken into consideration. Stoical in their substratum, bubbling on the surface, it may be that these women who took up the burdens of men so bravely will shrug their shoulders and revert to pure femininity. Those past the age of allurement may fight like termagants for their lucrative jobs, their utter independence; but coquetry and the joy in life, or, to put it more plainly, the powerful passions of the French race, may do more to effect an automatic and permanent return to the old status than any authoritative act on the part of man.
The women of England are (or were) far more neurotic than the women of France, as they have fewer natural outlets. And the struggle for legal enfranchisement, involving, as it did, a sensationalism that affected even the non-combatants, did much to enhance this tendency, and it is interesting to speculate whether this war will make or finish them. Once more, personally, I believe it will make them, but as I was not able to go to London after my investigations in France were concluded and observe for myself I refuse to indulge in speculations. Time will show, and before very long.
No doubt, however, when the greater question of winning the war is settled, the question of sex equality will rage with a new violence, perhaps in some new form, among such bodies of women as are not so subject to the thrall of sex as to desert their new colors. It would seem that the lot of woman is ever to be on the defensive. Nature handicapped her at the start, giving man a tremendous advantage in his minimum relationship to reproduction, and circumstances (mainly perpetual warfare) postponed the development of her mental powers for centuries. Certainly nothing in the whole history of mankind is so startling as the abrupt awakening of woman and her demand for a position in the world equal to that of the dominant male.
I use the word abrupt, because in spite of the scattered instances of female prosiliency throughout history, and the long struggle beginning in the last century for the vote, or the individual determination to strive for some more distinguished fashion of coping with poverty than school-teaching or boarding-house keeping, the concerted awakening of the sex was almost as abrupt as the European War. Like many fires it smouldered long, and then burst into a menacing conflagration. But I do not for a moment apprehend that the conflagration will extinguish the complete glory of the male any more than it will cause a revulsion of nature in the born mother.
But may there not be a shuffling of the cards? Take the question of servant-girls for instance. Where there are two or more servants in a family their lot is far better than that of the factory girl. But it is quite a different matter with the maid-of-all-work, the household drudge, who is increasingly hard to find, partly because she, quite naturally, prefers the department store, or the factory, with its definite hours and better social status, partly because there is nothing in the “home” to offset her terrible loneliness but interminable hours of work. In England, where many people live in lodgings, fashionable and otherwise, and have all meals served in their rooms, it is a painful sight to see a slavey toiling up two or three flights of stairs—and four times a day. In the United States, the girls who come over from Scandinavia or Germany with roseate hopes soon lose their fresh color and look heavy and sullen if they find their level in the household where economy reigns.
Now, why has no one ever thought of men as “maids” of all work? On ocean liners it is the stewards that take care of the state-rooms, and they keep them like wax, and make the best bed known to civilization. The stewardesses in heavy weather attend to the prostrate of their sex, but otherwise do nothing but bring the morning tea, hook up, and receive tips. Men wait in the diningroom (as they do in all first-class hotels), and look out for the passengers on deck. Not the most militant suffragette but would be intensely annoyed to have stewardesses scurrying about on a heaving deck with the morning broth and rugs, or dancing attendance in a nauseous sea.
The truth of the matter is that there is a vast number of men of all races who are fit to be nothing but servants, and are so misplaced in other positions where habit or vanity has put them, that they fail far more constantly than women. All “men” are not real men by any means. They are not fitted to play a man’s part in life, and many of the things they attempt are far better done by strong determined women, who have had the necessary advantages, and the character to ignore the handicap of sex.
I can conceive of a household where a well-trained man cooks, does the “wash,” waits on the table, sweeps, and if the mistress has a young child, or is indolent and given to the rocking-chair and a novel-a-day, makes the beds without a wrinkle. He may lack ambition and initiative, the necessary amount of brains to carry him to success in any of the old masculine jobs, but he inherits the thoroughness of the ages that have trained him, and, if sober, rides the heavy waves of his job like a cork. I will venture to say that a man thus employed would finish his work before eight P.M. and spend an hour or two before bed-time with his girl or at his club.
Many a Jap in California does the amount of work I have described, and absorbs knowledge in and out of books during his hours of leisure. Sometimes they do more than I have indicated as possible for the white man. Energetic boys, who want to return to Japan as soon as possible, or, mayhap, buy a farm, make a hundred dollars a month by getting up at five in the morning to wash a certain number of stoops and sweep sidewalks, cook a breakfast and wash up the dinner dishes in one servantless household, the lunch dishes in another, clean up generally in another, cook the dinner, wait on the table, clean up in still another. As white men are stronger they could do even more, and support a wife in an intensive little flat where her work would be both light and spiritually remunerative. Domestic service would solve the terrible problem of life for thousands of men, and it would coincidentally release thousands of girls from the factory, the counter, and the exhausting misery of a “home” that never can be their own. At night he could feel like a householder and that he lived to some purpose. If he is inclined to complain that such a life is not “manly,” let him reflect that as he is not first-rate anyhow, and never can compete with the fully equipped, he had best be philosophical and get what comfort out of life he can. Certainly the increased economic value of thousands of men, at present slaving as underpaid clerks and living in hall bedrooms, would thin the ranks of the most ancient of all industries, if, according to our ardent reformers, they are recruited from the ranks of the lonely servant-girl, the tired shop-girl, and the despairing factory hand.
For it is largely a question of muscle and biology.
I have stated elsewhere that I believe in equal suffrage, if only because women are the mothers of men and therefore their equals. But I think there are several times more reasons why American women at least should not overwork their bodies and brains and wear themselves out trying to be men, than why it is quite right and fitting they should walk up to the polls and cast a vote for men who more or less control their destinies.
To digress a moment: When it comes to the arts, that is quite another matter. If a woman finds herself with a talent (I refrain from such a big word as genius, as only posterity should presume to apply that term to any one’s differentiation from his fellows), by all means let her work like a man, take a man’s chances, make every necessary sacrifice to develop this blessed gift; not only because it is a duty but because the rewards are adequate. The artistic career, where the impulse is genuine, furnishes both in its rewards and in the exercise of the gift itself far more happiness, or even satisfaction, than husband, children, or home. The chief reason is that it is the supreme form of self-expression, the ego’s apotheosis, the power to indulge in the highest order of spiritual pride, differentiation from the mass. These are brutal truths, and another truth is that happiness is the universal goal, whatever form it may take, and whatever form humanhypocrisy may compel it to take, or even to deny. Scientific education has taught us not to sacrifice others too much in its pursuit. That branch of ancestral memory known as conscience has morbid reactions.
To create, to feel something spinning out of your brain, which you hardly realize is there until formulated on paper, for instance; the adventurous life involved in the exercise of any art, with its uncertainties, its varieties, its disappointments, its mistakes; the fight, the exaltations, the supreme satisfactions—all this is the very best life has to offer. And as art is as impartial as a microbic disease, women do achieve, individually, as much as men; sometimes more. If their bulk has not in the past been as great, the original handicaps, which women in general, aided by science and a more enlightened public, are fast shedding, alone were to blame. Certainly as many women as men in the United States are engaged in artistic careers; more, if one judged by the proportion in the magazines.
Although I always feel that a man, owing to the greater freedom of his life and mental inheritances, has more to tell me than most women have, and I therefore prefer men as writers, still I see very little difference in the quality of their work. Often, indeed, the magazine fiction (in America) of the women shows greater care in phrase and workmanship than that of the men (who are hurried and harried by expensive families), and often quite as much virility.
No one ever has found life a lake. Life is a stormy ocean at best, and if any woman with a real gift prefers to sink rather than struggle, or to float back to shore on a raft, she deserves neither sympathy nor respect. Women born with that little tract in their brain sown by Nature with bulbs of one of the arts, may conquer the world as proudly as men, although not as quickly, for they rouse in disappointed or apprehensive men the meanest form of sex jealousy; but if they have as much courage as talent, if they are willing to dedicate their lives, not their off hours, to the tending of their rich oasis in the general desert of mind, success is theirs. Biological differences between the sexes evaporate before these impersonal sexless gifts (or whims or inadvertencies) of conservative Nature.
Of course women have worked themselves to death in their passionate devotion to art. So have men. Women have starved to death in garrets, their fine efforts rejected by those that buy, and sell again to an uncertain public. So have men. The dreariest anecdotes of England and France, so rich in letters, are of great men-geniuses who died young for want of proper nourishment or recognition, or who struggled on to middle-age in a bitterness of spirit that corroded their high endowment. I do not recall that any first-rate women writers have died for want of recognition, possibly because until now they have been few and far between. The Brontës died young, but mainly because they lived in the midst of a damp old churchyard and inherited tubercular tendencies. The graves and old box tombs crowd the very walls of the parsonage, and are so thick you hardly can walk between them. I spent a month in the village of Haworth, but only one night in the village inn at the extreme end of the churchyard; I could read the inscriptions on the tombs from my windows.
Charlotte had immediate recognition even from such men as Thackeray, and if the greater Emily had to wait for Swinburne and posterity it was inherited consumption that carried her off in her youth. Although much has been made of their poverty I don’t think they were so badly off for their times. The parsonage is a well-built stone house, their father had his salary, and the villagers told me that the three girls looked after the poor in hard winters, often supplying whole families with coal. Of course they led lives of a maddening monotony, but they were neither hungry nor bitter, and at least two of them developed a higher order of genius than was possible to the gifted Jane Austin in her smug life of middle-class plenty, and, to my mind, far more hampering restrictions.
Even if the Brontës had been sufficiently in advance of their times to “light out” and seek adventure and development in the great world, their low state of health would have kept them at home. So impressed was I with the (to a Californian) terrible pictures of poverty in which the Brontes were posed by their biographers that I grew up with the idea that one never could develop a gift or succeed in the higher manner unless one lived in a garret and half starved. I never had the courage to try the regimen, but so deep was the impression that I never have been able to work except in austere surroundings, and I have worked in most abominably uncomfortable quarters with an equanimity that was merely the result of the deathless insistence of an old impression sunk deep into a mind then plastic.
Let me hasten to add that many successful authors work in the most luxurious quarters imaginable. It is all a matter of temperament, or, it may be, of accident. Moreover this outer evidence of prosperity makes a subtle appeal to the snobbery of the world and to a certain order of critic, by no means to be despised. Socially and in the arts we Americans are the least democratic of people, partly because we are so damnably unsure of ourselves; and if I were beginning my career to-day I doubt if I should be so unbusiness-like as to take the lowly Brontes as a model.
If I have digressed for a moment from the main theme of this book it has been not only to show what the influence of such brave women as the Brontes has been on later generations of writers, but that biology must doff its hat at the tomb in Haworth Church. Their mental virility and fecundity equalled that of any man that has attained an equal eminence in letters, and they would have died young and suffered much if they never had written a line. They had not a constitution between the four of them and they spent their short lives surrounded by the dust and the corruption of death.
But when it comes to working like men for the sake of independence, of avoiding marriage, of “doing something,” that is another matter. To my mind it is abominable that society is so constituted that women are forced to work (in times of peace) for their bread at tasks that are far too hard for them, that extract the sweetness from youth, and unfit them physically for what the vast majority of women want more than anything else in life—children. If they deliberately prefer independence to marriage, well and good, but surely we are growing civilized enough (and this war, in itself a plunge into the dark ages, has in quite unintentional ways advanced civilization, for never in the history of the world have so many brains been thinking) so to arrange the social machinery that if girls and young women are forced to work for their daily bread, and often the bread of others, at least it shall be under conditions, including double shifts, that will enable them, if the opportunity comes, as completely to enjoy all that home means as falls to the lot of their more fortunate sisters. Even those who launch out in life with no heavier need than their driving independence of spirit should be protected, for often they too, when worn in body and mind, realize that the independent life per se is a delusion, and that their completion as well as their ultimate happiness and economic security lies in a brood and a husband to support it.
There used to be volumes of indignation expended upon the American mother toiling in the home, at the wash-tub for hire, or trudging daily to some remunerative task, while her daughters, after a fair education, idly flirted, and danced, and read, and finally married. Now, although that modus operandi sounds vulgar and ungrateful it is, biologically speaking, quite as it should be. Girls of that age should be tended as carefully as young plants; and, for that matter, it would be well if women until they have passed the high-water mark of reproductivity should be protected as much as possible from severe physical and mental strain. If women ever are to compete with men on anything like an equal basis, it is when they are in their middle years, when Nature’s handicaps are fairly outgrown, child-bearing and its intervening years of lassitude are over, as well as the recurrent carboniferous wastes and relaxations.
Why do farmers’ wives look so much older than city women of the same age in comfortable circumstances? Not, we may be sure, because of exposure to the elements, or even the tragic loneliness that was theirs before the pervasion of the automobile. Women in city flats are lonely enough, but although those that have no children or “light housekeeping” lead such useless lives one wonders why they were born, they outlast the women of the small towns by many years because of the minimum strain on their bodies.[G]The French are far too clever to let the women in the munition factories injure themselves. They have double, treble, and even quadruple shifts.
As a matter of fact in the large cities where the struggle of life is superlative they outlast the men. About the time the children are grown, the husband, owing to the prolonged and terrific strain in competing with thousands of men as competent as himself, to keep his family in comfort, educate his children, pay the interest on his life insurance policy, often finds that some one of his organs is breaking down and preparing him for the only rest he will ever find time to take. Meanwhile his prospective widow (there is, by the way, no nation in the world so prolific of widows and barren of widowers as the United States) is preparing to embark on her new career as a club woman, or, if she foresees the collapse of the family income, of self-support.
And in nine cases out of ten, if she has the intelligence to make use of what a combination of average abilities and experience has developed in her, she succeeds, and permanently; for women do not go to pieces between forty and fifty as they did in the past. They have learned too much. Work and multifarious interests distract their mind, which formerly dwelt upon their failing youth, and when they sadly composed themselves in the belief that they had given the last of their vitality to the last of their children; to-day, instead of sitting down by the fireside and waiting to die, they enter resolutely upon their second youth, which is, all told, a good deal more satisfactory than the first.
Every healthy and courageous woman’s second vitality is stronger and more enduring than her first. Not only has her body, assisted by modern science, settled down into an ordered routine that is impregnable to anything but accident, but her mind is delivered from the hopes and fears of the early sex impulses which so often sicken the cleverest of the younger women both in body and mind, filling the body with lassitude and the mind either with restless impatience or a complete indifference to anything but the tarrying prince. To blame them for this would be much like cursing Gibraltar for not getting out of the way in a storm. They are the tools of the race, the chosen mediums of Nature for the perpetuation of her beloved species. But the fact remains—that is to say, in the vast majority of girls. There is, as we all know, the hard-shell division of their sex who, even without a gift, infinitely prefer the single and independent life in their early youth, and only begin to show thin spots in their armor as they approach thirty, sometimes not until it is far too late. But if you will spend a few days walking through the department stores, for instance, of a large city and observing each of the young faces in turn behind the counters, it will be rarely that you will not feel reasonably certain that the secret thoughts of all that vast army circle persistently about some man, impinging or potential. And wherever you make your studies, from excursion boats to the hour of release at the gates of a factory, you must draw the same conclusion that sex reigns, that it is the most powerful factor in life and will be so long as Earth at least continues to spin. For that reason, no matter how persistently girls may work because they must or starve, it is the competent older women, long since outgrown the divine nonsense of youth, who are the more satisfactory workers. Girls, unless indifferently sexed, do not take naturally to work in their youth. Whether they have the intelligence to reason or not, they know that they were made for a different fate and they resent standing behind a counter all day long or speeding up machinery for a few dollars a week. Even the highly intelligent girls who find work on newspapers often look as if they were at the end of their endurance. It is doubtful if the world ever can run along without the work of women but the time will surely come when society will be so constituted that no woman in the first flush of her youth will be forced to squander it on the meager temporary reward, and forfeit her birthright. If she wants to, well and good. No one need be deeply concerned for those that launch out into life because they like it. Women in civilized countries are at liberty to make their own lives; that is the supreme privilege of democracy. But the victims of the propelling power of the world are greatly to be pitied and Society should come to their rescue. I know that the obvious answer to this is “Socialism.” But before the rest of us can swallow Socialism it must spew out its present Socialists and get new ones. Socialists never open their mouths that they do not do their cause harm; and whatever virtues their doctrine may contain we are blinded to it at present. This war may solve the problem. If Socialism should be the inevitable outcome it would at least come from the top and so be sufferable.
It is all very well to do your duty by your sex and keep up the birth-rate, and there are compensations, no doubt of that, when the husband is amiable, the income adequate, and the children are dears and turn out well; but the second life is one’s very own, the duty is to one’s self, and, such is the ineradicable selfishness of human nature after long years of self-denial and devotion to others, there is a distinct, if reprehensible, satisfaction in being quite natural and self-centered. If, on the other hand, circumstances are such that the capable middle-aged woman, instead of living entirely for herself, in her clubs, in her increasing interest in public affairs, and her chosen work, finds herself with certain members of her family dependent upon her, she also derives from this fact an enormous satisfaction, for it enables her to prove that she can fill a man’s place in the world, be quite as equal to her job.
Instead of breaking down, this woman, who has outlived the severest handicap of sex without parting with any of its lore, grows stronger and more poised every year, retaining (or regaining) her looks if she has the wisdom to keep her vanity alive; while the girl forced to spend her days on her feet behind a counter (we hear of seats for these girls but we never see them occupied), or slave in a factory (where there is no change of shift as in the munition factories of the European countries in war time), or work from morning until night as a general servant—”one in help”—wilts and withers, grows pasée, fanée, is liable to ultimate breakdown unless rescued by some man.
The expenditure of energy in these girls is enormous, especially if they combine with this devitalizing work an indulgence in their natural desire to play. Rapid child-bearing would not deplete them more; and it is an intensely ignorant or an intensely stupid or, in the United States, an exceptionally sensual woman who has a larger family than the husband can keep in comfort. Moreover, unless in the depths of poverty, each child means a period of rest, which is more than the girl behind the counter gets in her entire working period.
These women, forced by a faulty social structure to support themselves and carry heavy burdens, lack the intense metabolism of the male, his power to husband his stores of carbon (an organic exception which renders him indifferent to standing), and the superior quality of his muscle. Biologically men and women are different from crown to sole. It might be said that Nature fashioned man’s body for warfare, and that if he grows soft during intervals of peace it is his own fault. Even so, unless in some way he has impaired his health, he has heretofore demonstrated that he can do far more work than women, and stand several times the strain, although his pluck may be no finer.
If one rejects this statement let him look about among his acquaintance at the men who have toiled hard to achieve an independence, and whose wives have toiled with them, either because they lived in communities where it was impossible to keep servants, or out of a mistaken sense of economy. The man looks fresh and his wife elderly and wrinkled and shapeless, even if she has reasonable health. It is quite different in real cities where life on a decent income (or salary) can be made very easy for the woman, as I have just pointed out; but I have noticed that in small towns or on the farm, even now, when these scattered families are no longer isolated as in the days when farmers’ wives committed suicide or intoxicated themselves on tea leaves, the woman always looks far older than the man if “she has done her own work” during all the years of her youth and maturity. If she renounces housekeeping in disgust occasionally and moves to an hotel, she soon amazes her friends by looking ten years younger; and if her husband makes enough money to move to a city large enough to minimize the burdens of housekeeping and offer a reasonable amount of distraction, she recovers a certain measure of her youth, although still far from being at forty or fifty what she would have been if her earlier years had been relieved of all but the strains which Nature imposes upon every woman from princess to peasant.
It remains to be seen whether the extraordinary amount of work the European women are doing in the service of their country, and the marked improvement in their health and physique, marks a stride forward in the physical development of the sex, being the result of latent possibilities never drawn upon before, or is merely the result of will power and exaltation, and bound to exhibit its definite limit as soon as the necessity is withdrawn. The fact, of course, remains that the women of the farms and lower classes generally in France are almost painfully plain, and look hard and weather-beaten long before they are thirty, while the higher you mount the social scale in your researches the more the women of France, possessing little orthodox beauty, manage, with a combination of style, charm, sophistication, and grooming, to produce the effect not only of beauty but of a unique standard that makes the beauties of other nations commonplace by comparison.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that these girls and young women working in the Usines de Guerre, are better looking than they were before and shine with health. The whole point, I fancy, lies in the fact that they work under merciful masters and conditions. If they were used beyond their capacity they would look like their sisters on the farms, upon whom fathers and husbands have little mercy.
When girls in good circumstances become infected with the microbe of violent exercise and insist upon walking many miles a day, besides indulging for hours in games which permit no rest, they look like hags. Temporarily, of course. When they recover their common sense they recover their looks, for it is in their power to relax and recuperate. Men will walk twenty miles, take a cold shower, a good meal, a night’s rest, and look as well as ever the next day—or at the end of the walk, for that matter. They can afford the waste. Women cannot. If women succeed in achieving hard unyielding muscles in the wrong place they suffer atrociously in childbirth; for Nature, who is as old-fashioned and inhospitable to modern ideas as a Tory statesman, takes a vicious pleasure in punishing one sex every time it succeeds in approaching the peculiar level of the other, or which diverges from the normal in any way. Note how many artists, who are nine-tenths temperament and one-tenth male, suffer; not only because they are beset with every sort of weakness that affects their social status, but because the struggle with life is too much for them unless they have real men behind them until their output is accepted by the public, and themselves with it.
Some day Society will be civilized enough to recognize the limitations and the helplessness of those who are artists first and men afterwards. But meanwhile we can only rely upon the sympathy and the understanding of the individual.
Far be it from me to advise that girls refrain from doing their part in the general work of the home, if servants are out of the question; that won’t hurt them; but if some one must go out and support the family it would better be the mother or the maiden aunt.
Better still, a husband, if marriage is their goal and children the secret desire of their hearts.
If girls are so constituted mentally that they long for the independent life, self-support, self-expression, they will have it and without any advice from the worldly-wise; it is as driving an impulse as the reproductive instinct in those who are more liberally sexed. And these last are still in the majority, no doubt of that. Therefore, far better they marry and have children in their youth. They, above all, are the women whose support and protection is the natural duty of man, and while it is one of life’s misfortunes for a girl to marry simply to escape life’s burdens, without love and without the desire for children, it is by far the lesser evil to have the consolation of home and children in the general barrenness of life than to slave all day at an uncongenial task and go “home” to a hall bedroom.
These views were so much misunderstood when they appeared in magazine form that I have felt obliged to emphasize the differences between the still primitive woman and the woman who is the product of the higher civilization. One young socialist, who looked quite strong enough to support a family, asked me if I did not think it better for a girl to support herself than to be the slave of a man’s lust and bear innumerable children, whether she wished for them or not, children to whose support society contributed nothing. But why be a man’s slave, and why have more children than you can support? We live in the enlightened twentieth century, when there is precious little about anything that women do not know, and if they do not they are such hopeless fools that they should be in the State Institutions. The time has passed for women to talk of being men’s slaves in any sense, except in the economic. There are still sweatshops and there is still speeding up in factories, because society is still far from perfect, but if a woman privately is a man’s slave to-day it is because she is the slave of herself as well.
Personally, although nothing has ever tempted me to marry a second time, I am very glad I married in my early youth, not only because matrimony enables a potential writer to see life from many more viewpoints than if she remains blissfully single, but because I was sheltered from all harsh contacts with the world. No one was ever less equipped by nature for domesticity and all the responsibilities of everyday life, and if circumstances had so ordered that I had not blundered into matrimony before twenty-four-or-five, no doubt I never should have married at all.
But at that time—I was home on a vacation from boarding-school, and had had none of that illuminating experience known as being “out,” I did no reasoning whatever. On the other hand I was far too mentally undeveloped and arrogant to be capable at that tender age of falling deeply in love. My future husband proposed six times (we were in a country house). I was flattered, divided between the ambition to graduate brilliantly and to be an author with no further loss of time, and wear becoming caps and trains to my frocks. On the other hand I wanted neither a husband particularly nor to go back to school, for I felt that as my grandfather had one of the best libraries in California nothing could be more pleasant or profitable than to finish my education in it undisturbed. Nevertheless, quite abruptly I made up my mind and married; and, if the truth were known, my reasons and impulses were probably as intelligent as those of the average young girl who knows the world only through books and thinks it has little more to teach her. My life had been objective and sheltered. If forced to earn my living at sixteen no doubt the contacts impossible to escape would soon have given me a real maturity of judgment and I should have grown to love, jealously, my freedom.
That is to say, if I had been a strong girl. As a matter-of-fact I was extremely delicate, with a weak back, a threat of tuberculosis, and very bad eyes. Most of this was the result of over-study, for I had been a healthy child, but I loved books and was indifferent to exercise and nourishment. No doubt if I had been turned out into the world to fare for myself I should have gone into a decline. Therefore, it was sheer luck that betrayed me into matrimony, for although my mental energies were torpid for several years my first child seemed to dissipate the shadows that lay in my blood, and at twenty-five I was a normally strong woman. We lived in the country. My husband looked after the servants, and if we were without a cook for several days he filled her place (he had learned to cook “camping out” and liked nothing better) until my mother-in-law sent a woman from San Francisco. I read, strolled about the woods, storing up vitality but often depressed with the unutterable ennui of youth, and haunted with the fear that my story-telling faculty, which had been very pronounced, had deserted me.
When my husband died I had but one child. I left her with her two adoring grandmothers and fled to New York. I was still as callow as a boarding-school girl, but my saving grace was that I knew I did not know anything, that I never would know enough to write about life until I had seen more of it than was on exhibition in California.
But by that time my health was established. I felt quite equal to writing six books a year if any one would publish them, besides studying life at first hand as persistently and deeply as the present state of society will permit in the case of a mere woman. For that reason I shall always be sorry I did not go on a newspaper for a year as a reporter, as there is no other way for a woman to see life in all its phases. I had a letter to Charles Dana, owner of the New York Sun, and no doubt he would have put me to work, but I was still too pampered, or too snobbish, and, lacking the spur of necessity, missed one of the best of educations. Now, no matter who asks my advice in regard to the literary career, whether she is the ambitious daughter of a millionaire or a girl whose talent is for the story and whose future depends upon herself, I invariably give her one piece of advice: “Go on a newspaper. Be a reporter. Refuse no assignment. Be thankful for a merciless City Editor and his blue pencil. But, if you feel that you have the genuine story-telling gift, save your money and leave at the end of a year, or two years at most.”
As for myself, I absorbed life as best I could, met people in as many walks of life as possible. As I would not marry again, and, in consequence, had no more children, nor suffered from the wearing monotonies of domestic life, I have always kept my health and been equal to an immense amount of work.
But the point is that I had been sheltered and protected during my delicate years. No doubt it was a part of my destiny to hand on the intensely American qualities of body and mind I had inherited from my Dutch and English forefathers, as well as to do my share in carrying on the race. But I got rid of all that as quickly as possible, and struck out for that plane of modern civilization planted and furrowed and replenished by daughters of men.
There is nothing paradoxical in affirming that while no woman before she has reached the age of thirty-five or forty should, if she can avoid it, compete with men in work which the exigencies of civilization (man-made civilization) have adapted to him alone, still, every girl of every class, from the industrial straight up to the plutocratic, should be trained in some congenial vocation during her plastic years. Civilization in certain respects is as inadequate as it was a thousand years ago. Socialism might solve the problem if it were not for the Socialists. Certainly no man or body of men has yet arisen with the proper amount of imagination, selflessness, brains and constructive genius, necessary to plan a social order in which all men shall work without overworking and support all women during the best years of the child-bearing and child-rearing span. If men had been clever enough to make even an imperfect attempt to protect women without independent means from the terrors of life, say by taxing themselves, they would not be pestered to-day with the demand for equal rights, see themselves menaced in nearly all of the remunerative industries and professions, above all by the return of the Matriarchate.
It is Life that has developed the fighting instinct in woman, bred the mental antagonism of sex. Nature did not implant either. Nor has she ever wavered a jot from the original mix compounded in her immemorial laboratory. Man is man and woman is woman to-day, even to the superior length of limb in the male (relative to the trunk) and the greater thickness of hairs in the woman’s eyelashes. In England women of the leisure class showed during the years of the sports craze a tendency to an unfeminine length of limb, often attaining or surpassing the male average. But Nature avenged herself by narrowing the pelvis and weakening the reproductive organs. Free trade drove the old sturdy yeoman into the towns and diminished the stature and muscular power of their descendants, but ten months of trench life and Nature laughed at the weak spot in civilization. The moment false conditions are removed she claims her own.
Women to-day may prove themselves quite capable of doing, and permanently, the work of men in ammunition and munition factories, but it is patent that when human bipeds first groped their way about the terrifying Earth, she was not equal to the task of leveling forests, killing the beasts that roamed them, hurling spears in savage warfare, and bearing many children for many years. She played her part in the scheme of things precisely as Nature had meant she should play it: she cooked, she soothed the warrior upon his return from killing of man or beast, and she brought up her boys to be warriors and her girls to serve them. There you have Nature and her original plan, a bald and uninteresting plan, but eminently practical for the mere purpose (which is all that concerns her) of keeping the world going. And so it would be to-day, even in the civilized core, if man had been clever enough to take the cue Nature flung in his face and kept woman where to-day he so ingenuously desires to see her, and before whose deliverance he is as helpless as old Nature herself.
Man obeyed the herding instinct whose ultimate expression was the growth of great cities, invented the telegraph, the cable, the school, the newspaper, the glittering shops, the public-lecture system; and, voluntarily or carelessly, threw open to women the gates of all the arts, to say nothing of the crafts. And all the while he not only continued to antagonize woman, proud and eager in her awakened faculties, with stupid interferences, embargoes and underhand thwartings, but he permitted her to struggle and die in the hideous contacts with life from which a small self-imposed tax would have saved her. Some of the most brilliant men the world will ever know have lived, and administered, and passed into history, and the misery of helpless women has increased from generation to generation, while coincidentally her intelligence has waxed from resignation or perplexity through indignation to a grim determination. Man missed his chance and must take the consequences.
Certainly, young women fulfill their primary duty to the race and, incidentally, do all that should be expected of them, in the bringing forth and rearing of children, making the home, and seeing to the coherence of the social groups they have organized for recreation or purely in the interest of the next generation.
Perhaps the women will solve the problem. I can conceive the time when there will have developed an enormous composite woman’s brain which, combining superior powers of intuition and sympathy with that high intellectual development the modern conditions so generously permit, added to their increasing knowledge of and interest in the social, economic, and political problems, will make them a factor in the future development of the race, gradually bring about a state of real civilization which twenty generations of men have failed to accomplish.
But that is not yet, and we may all be dead before its heyday. The questions of the moment absorb us. We must take them as they arise and do the best we can with existing conditions. The world is terribly conservative. Look at the European War.
Nowhere are fortunes so insecure as in the United States. The phrase, “Three generations from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves,” was not coined in Europe. But neither does it embrace a great American truth Many a fortune rises and falls within the span of one generation. Many a girl reared in luxury, or what passes in her class for luxury, is suddenly forced out into the economic world with no preparation whatever. It would be interesting to gather the statistics of men who, with a large salary, or a fair practice, and indulged family, and a certain social position to keep up, either vaguely intend to save and invest one of these days—perhaps when the children are educated—or carry a large life insurance which they would find too heavy a tax at the moment.
Often, indeed, a man does insure his life, and then in some year of panic or depression is forced to sell the policy or go under. Or he insures in firms that fail. My father insured in three companies and all failed before he died. In San Francisco the “earthquake clause” prevented many men from recovering a penny on their merchandise or investments swept away by the fire. Even a large number of the rich were embarrassed by that fire, for, having invested millions in Class A buildings, which were fire-proof, they saw no necessity for expending huge sums annually in premiums. They never thought of a general conflagration whose momentum would carry the flames across the street and into their buildings through the windows, eating up the interiors and leaving the fire-proof shell. One family lost six million dollars in a few hours, and emigrated to one of the Swiss lakes in order to be able to educate their children while their fortunes slowly recovered with the aid of borrowed capital.
A large number of girls, who, without being rich, had led the sheltered life before the fire, were obliged to go to work at once. Some were clever enough to know what they could do and did it without loss of time, some were assisted, others blundered along and nearly starved.
Often men who have done well and even brilliantly up to middle life, are not equal to the tremendous demand upon the vital energies of beginning life over again after some disastrous visitation of Nature, or a panic, or an ill-advised personal venture has wrecked their own business or that of the concern in which they were a highly paid cog. In the mining States men are dependent upon the world’s demand for their principal product. Farmers and stock-raisers are often cruelly visited, strikes or hard times paralyze mills and factories; and in times of panic and dry-rot the dealers in luxuries, including booksellers—to say nothing of the writers of books as well as the devotees of all the arts—are the first to suffer. And it is their women that suffer acutely, because although many of these men may hang on and recover, many more do not. They have used up their vital forces. It is not so much a matter of will as of physics. A woman in the same conditions who had been obliged to tax her vital organs for an equal number of years would no doubt have lasted as long.
Unless defective, there is not a girl alive, certainly not an American girl, who is wholly lacking in some sort of ability. The parasite type (who is growing rare in these days, by the way, for it is now the fashion to “do things”) either fastens herself upon complacent relatives or friends when deserted by fortune, or drifts naturally into the half-world, always abundantly recruited from such as she.
Many girls have a certain facility in the arts and crafts, which, with severe training, might fit them for a second place in the class which owes its origin to Heaven-born gifts. If their facility manifests itself in writing they could be trained at college, or even on the small local newspaper to write a good mechanical story, constructed out of popular elements and eminently suited to the popular magazine. Or they may fit themselves for dramatic or musical criticism, or advertisement writing, which pays enormously but is not as easy as it sounds. Or if every school (I am saying nothing about girls’ colleges) would train their promising “composition” writers in reporting, their graduates would plant their weary feet far more readily than they do now when they come to a great city and beseech a busy editor to give them a chance.
Almost anything can be done with the plastic mind. But not always. It is the better part of wisdom for proud parents to discover just what their offspring’s facility amounts to before spending money on an art or a musical education, for instance. I had a painful experience, and no doubt it has been duplicated a thousand times, for Europe before the war was full of girls (many living on next to nothing) who were studying “art” or “voice culture,” with neither the order of endowment nor the propelling brain-power to justify the sacrifice of their parents or the waste of their own time.
Some years ago, finding that a young relative, who was just finishing her school course, drew and painted in water colors with quite a notable facility, and the family for generations having manifested talents in one way or another, I decided to take her abroad and train her faculty that she might be spared the humiliation of dependence, nor feel a natural historic inclination to marry the first man who offered her an alternative dependence; and at the same time be enabled to support herself in a wholly congenial way. I did not delude myself with the notion that she was a genius, but I thought it likely she would become apt in illustrating, and I knew that I could throw any amount of work in her way, or secure her a position in the art department of some magazine.
I took her to the European city where I was then living and put her in the best of its art schools. To make a long story short, after I had expended some five thousand dollars on her, including traveling expenses and other incidentals, the net result was an elongated thumb. I was forced to the conclusion that she had not an atom of real talent, merely the treacherous American facility. Moreover, she lost all her interest in “art” when it meant hard work and persistent application. I was wondering what on earth I was to do with her when she solved the problem herself. She announced with unusual decision that she wanted to be a nurse, had always wanted to be a nurse (she had never mentioned the aspiration to me) and that nothing else interested her. Her mother had been an invalid; one way or another she had seen a good deal of illness.
Accordingly I sent her back to this country and entered her, through the influence of friends, at a hospital. She graduated at the head of her class, and although that was three or four years ago she has never been idle since. She elected to take infectious cases, as the remuneration is higher, and although she is very small, with such tiny hands and feet that while abroad her gloves and boots had to be made to order, no doubt she has so trained her body that the strains in nursing fall upon no particular member.
In that case I paid for my own mistake, and she found her level in ample time, which is as it should be. Of what use is experience if you are to be misled by family vanity? As she is pretty and quite mad about children, no doubt she will marry; but the point is that she can wait; or, later, if the man should prove inadequate, she can once more support herself, and with enthusiasm, for she loves the work.
To be a nurse is no bed of roses; but neither is anything else. To be dependent in the present stage of civilization is worse, and nothing real is accomplished in life without work and its accompaniment of hard knocks. Nursing is not only a natural vocation for a woman, but an occupation which increases her matrimonial chances about eighty per cent. Nor is it as arduous after the first year’s training is over as certain other methods of wresting a livelihood from an unwilling world—reporting, for instance. It is true that only the fit survive the first year’s ordeal, but on the other hand few girls are so foolish as to choose the nursing career who do not feel within themselves a certain stolid vitality. After graduation from the hospital course their future depends upon themselves. Doctors soon discover the most desirable among the new recruits, others find permanent places in hospitals; and, it may be added, the success of these young women depends upon a quality quite apart from mere skill—personality. In the spring of 1915 I was in a hospital and there was one nurse I would not have in the room. I was told that she was one of the most valuable nurses on the staff, but that was nothing to me.
I could not see that any of the nurses in this large hospital was overworked. All looked healthy and contented. My own “night special,” save when I had a temperature and demanded ice, slept from the time she prepared me for the night until she rose to prepare me for the day, with the exception of the eleven o’clock supper which she shared with the hospital staff. Being very pretty and quite charming she will marry, no doubt, although she refuses to nurse men. But there are always the visiting doctors, the internes, and the unattached men in households, where in the most seductive of all garbs, she remains for weeks at a time.
In fact nearly all nurses are pretty. I wonder why?
The hospital nurses during the day arrived at intervals to take my temperature, give me detestable nourishment, or bring me flowers or a telephone message. It certainly never occurred to me to pity any of them, and when they lingered to talk they entertained me with pleasant pictures of their days off. They struck me as being able to enjoy life very keenly, possibly because of being in a position to appreciate its contrasts.
I know the daughter of a wealthy and historic family, whose head—he is precisely the type of the elderly, cold-blooded, self-righteous, self-conscious New York aristocrat of the stage—will not permit her to gratify her desire to write for publication, “for,” saith he, “I do not wish to see my honored name on the back of works of fiction.”
I do not think, myself, that he has deprived the world of one more author, for if she had fiction in her brain-cells no parental dictum could keep it confined within the walls of her skull; but the point is that being a young woman of considerable energy and mental activity, she found mere society unendurable and finally persuaded her father to make her one of his secretaries. She learned not only stenography and typewriting but telegraphy. There is a private apparatus in their Newport home for her father’s confidential work, and this she manipulates with the skill of a professional. If the fortunes of her family should go to pieces, she could find a position and support herself without the dismal and health-racking transition which is the fate of so many unfortunate girls suddenly bereft and wholly unprepared.
The snobbishness of this old gentleman is by no means a prerogative of New York’s “old families.” One finds it in every class of American men above the industrial. In Honoré Willsie’s novel, Lydia of the Pines, an American novel of positive value, the father was a day laborer, as a matter of a fact (although of good old New England farming stock), earning a dollar and a half a day, and constantly bemoaning the fact; yet when “young Lydia,” who was obliged to dress like a scarecrow, wished to earn her own pin-money by making fudge he objected violently. The itching pride of the American male deprives him of many comforts and sometimes of honor and freedom, because he will not let his wife use her abilities and her spare time. He will steal or embezzle rather than have the world look on while “his” wife ekes out the family income. The determined Frenchwomen have had their men in training for generations, and the wife is the business partner straight up to the haute bourgeoisie; but the American woman, for all her boasted tyranny over the busy male of her land, is either an expensive toy or a mere household drudge, until years and experience give her freedom of spirit. This war will do more to liberate her than that mild social earthquake called the suffrage movement. The rich women are working so hard that not only do they dress and entertain far less than formerly but their husbands are growing quite accustomed to their separate prominence and publicly admitted usefulness. The same may be said of groups of women in less conspicuous classes, and when the war is over it is safe to say these women will continue to do as they please. There is something insidiously fascinating in work to women that never have worked, not so much in the publicity it may give but in the sense of mental expansion; and, in the instance of war, the passion of usefulness, the sense of dedication to a high cause, the necessary frequent suppression of self, stamp the soul with an impress that never can be obliterated. That these women engaged in good works often quarrel like angry cats, or fight for their relief organization as a lioness would fight for her hungry cub, is beside the point. That is merely another way of admitting they are human beings; not necessarily women, but just human beings. As it was in the beginning, is now, etc. Far better let loose their angry passions in behalf of the men who are fighting to save the world from a reversion to barbarism, than rowing their dressmakers, glaring across the bridge table, and having their blood poisoned by eternal jealousy over some man.
And if it will hasten the emancipation of the American man from the thralldom of snobbery still another barrier will go down in the path of the average woman. Just consider for a moment how many men are failures. They struggle along until forty or forty-five “on their own,” although fitted by nature to be clerks and no more, striving desperately to keep up appearances—for the sake of their own pride, for the sake of their families, even for the sake of being “looked up to” by their wife and observant offspring. But without real hope, because without real ability (they soon, unless fools, outlive the illusions of youth when the conquest of fortune was a matter of course) always in debt, and doomed to defeat.
How many women have said to me—women in their thirties or early forties, and with two or three children of increasing demands: “Oh, if I could help! How unjust of parents not to train girls to do something they can fall back on. I want to go to work myself and insure my children a good education and a start in the world, but what can I do? If I had been specialized in any one thing I’d use it now whether my husband liked it or not. But although I have plenty of energy and courage and feel that I could succeed in almost anything I haven’t the least idea how to go about it.”
If a woman’s husband collapses into death or desuetude while her children are young, it certainly is the bounden duty of some member of her family to support her until her children are old enough to go to school, for no one can take her place in the home before that period. Moreover, her mind should be as free of anxiety as her body of strain. But what a ghastly reflection upon civilization it is when she is obliged to stand on her feet all day in a shop or factory, or make tempting edibles for some Woman’s Exchange, because she cannot afford to spend time upon a belated training that might admit her lucratively to one of the professions or business industries.
The childless woman solves the problem with comparative ease. She invariably shows more energy and decision, provided, of course, these qualities have been latent within her.
Nevertheless, it is often extraordinary just what she does do. For instance I knew a family of girls upon whose college education an immense sum had been expended, and whose intellectual arrogance I never have seen equalled. When their father failed and died, leaving not so much as a small life insurance, what did they do? Teach? Write? Edit? Become some rich and ignorant man’s secretary? Not a bit of it. They cooked. Always noted in their palmy days for their “table,” and addicted to relieving the travail of intellect with the sedative of the homeliest of the minor arts, they began on preserves for the Woman’s Exchange; and half the rich women in town were up at their house day after day stirring molten masses in a huge pot on a red-hot range.
It was sometime before they were taken seriously, and, particularly after the enthusiasm of their friends waned, there was a time of hard anxious struggle. But they were robust and determined, and in time they launched out as caterers and worked up a first-class business. They took their confections to the rear entrances of their friends’ houses on festive occasions and accepted both pay and tips with lively gratitude. They educated their younger brothers and lost their arrogance. They never lost their friends.
Owing to dishonest fiction the impression prevails throughout the world that “Society” is heartless and that the rich and well-to-do drop their friends the moment financial reverses force them either to reduce their scale of living far below the standard, or go to work. When that happens it is the fault of the reversed, not of the entrenched. False pride, constant whining, or insupportable irritabilities gradually force them into a dreary class apart. If anything, people of wealth and secure position take a pride in standing by their old friends (their “own sort”), in showing themselves above all the means sins of which fiction and the stage have accused them, and in lending what assistance they can. Even when the head of the family has disgraced himself and either blown out his brains or gone to prison, it depends entirely upon the personalities of his women whether or not they retain their friends. In fact any observant student of life is reminded daily that one’s real position in the world depends upon personality, more particularly if backed by character. Certainly it is nine-tenths of the battle for struggling women.
Another woman whom I always had looked upon as a charming butterfly, but who, no doubt, had long shown her native shrewdness and determination in the home, stepped into her husband’s shoes when he collapsed from strain, abetted by drink, and now competes in the insurance business with the best of the men. But she had borne the last of her children and she has perfect health.
Galsworthy’s play, The Fugitive, may not have been good drama but it had the virtue of provoking thought after one had left the theater. More than ever it convinced me, at least, that the women of means and leisure with sociological leanings should let the working girl take care of herself for a time and devote their attention to the far more hopeless problem of the lady suddenly thrown upon her own resources.
No doubt this problem will have ceased to exist twenty years hence. Every girl, rich or poor, and all grades between, will have specialized during her plastic years on something to be used as a resource; but at present there are thousands of young women who find the man they married in ignorance an impossible person to live with and yet linger on in wretched bondage because what little they know of social conditions terrifies them. If they are pretty they fear other men as much as they fear their own husbands, and for all the “jobs” open to unspecialized women, they seem to be preeminently unfitted. If the rich women of every large city would build a great college in which every sort of trade and profession could be taught, from nursing to stenography, from retouching photographs to the study of law, while the applicant, after her sincerity had been established, was kept in comfort and ease of mind, with the understanding that she should repay her indebtedness in weekly installments after the college had launched her into the world, we should have no more such ghastly plays as The Fugitive or hideous sociological tracts as A Bed of Roses.
The world is willing and eager to buy what it wants. If you have goods to sell you soon find your place at the counter, unless owing to some fault of character your fellow barterers and their patrons will have none of you. Of course there is always the meanest of all passions, jealousy, waiting to thwart you at every turn, but no woman with a modicum of any one of those wares the world wants and must have need fear any enemy but her own loss of courage.
The pity is that so many women with no particular gift and only minor energies are thrust into the economic world without either natural or deliberate equipment. All that saves them in nine cases out of ten is conserved energies, and if they are thrust out too young they are doubly at a disadvantage.
A good deal has been written about the fresh enthusiasm of the young worker, as contrasted with the slackened energies and disillusioned viewpoint of middle life. But I think most honest employers will testify that a young girl worker’s enthusiasm is for closing time, and her dreams are not so much of the higher skilfulness as of the inevitable man. Nature is inexorable. She means that the young things shall reproduce. If they will not or cannot that is not her fault; she is always there with the urge. Even when girls think they sell themselves for the adornments so dear to youth they are merely the victims of the race, driven toward the goal by devious ways. Nature, of course, when she fashioned the world reckoned without science. I sometimes suspect her of being of German origin, for so methodical and mechanical is her kultur that she will go on repeating “two and two make four” until the final cataclysm.
I think that American women are beginning to realize that American men are played out at forty-five; or fifty, at the most. There are exceptions, of course, but with the vast majority the strain is too great and the rewards are too small. They cannot retire in time. I have a friend who, after a brilliant and active career, has withdrawn to the communion of nature and become a philosopher. He insists that all men should be retired by law at forty-five and condemned to spend the rest of their days tilling the soil gratis for women and the rising generation. The outdoor life would restore a measure of their dissipated vitality and prolong their lives.
This may come to pass in time: stranger things have happened. But, as I remarked before, it is the present we have to consider. It seems to me it would be a good idea if every woman who is both protected and untrained but whose husband is approaching forty should, if not financially independent, begin seriously to think of fitting herself for self-support. The time to prepare for possible disaster is not after the torpedo has struck the ship.
A thousand avenues are open to women, and fresh ones open yearly. She can prepare secretly, or try her hand at first one and then another (if she begins by being indeterminate) of such congenial occupations as are open to women of her class, beyond cooking, teaching, clerking. Those engaged in reforms, economic improvements, church work, and above all, to-day, war relief work, should not be long discovering their natural bent as well as its marketable value, and the particular rung of the ladder upon which to start.
Many women whose energies have long been absorbed by the home are capable of flying leaps. These women still in their thirties, far from neglecting their children when looking beyond the home, are merely ensuring their proper nourishment and education.
Why do not some of the public spirited women, whose own fortunes are secure, form bureaus where all sorts of women, apprehensive of the future, may be examined, advised, steered on their way? In this they would merely be taking a leaf from the present volume of French history its women are writing. It is the women of independent means over there who have devised so many methods by which widows and girls and older spinsters tossed about in the breakers of war may support themselves and those dependent upon them. There is Mlle. Thompson’s École Feminine, for instance, and Madame Goujon’s hundred and one practical schemes which I will not reiterate here.
Women of the industrial class in the United States need new laws, but little advice how to support themselves. They fall into their natural place almost automatically, for they are the creatures of circumstances, which are set in motion early enough to determine their fate. If they do hesitate their minds are quickly made up for them by either their parents or their social unit. The great problem to-day is for the women of education, fastidiousness, a certain degree of ease, threatened with a loss of that male support upon which ancient custom bred them to rely. Their children will be specialized; they will see to that. But their own problem is acute and it behooves trained and successful women to take it up, unless the war lasts so long that every woman will find her place as inevitably as the working girl.
For a long time to come women will be forced to leave the administering of the nation as well as of states and cities to men, for men are still too strong for them. The only sort of women that men will spontaneously boost into public life are pretty, bright, womanly, spineless creatures who may be trusted to set the cause of woman back a few years at least, and gratify their own sense of humorous superiority.
Women would save themselves much waste of energy and many humiliations if they would devote themselves exclusively to helping and training their own sex. Thousands are at work on the problems of higher wage and shorter hours for women of the industrial class, but this problem of the carefully nurtured, wholly untrained, and insecurely protected woman they have so far ignored. To my mind this demands the first consideration and the application of composite woman’s highest intelligence. The industrial woman has been trained to work, she learns as she grows to maturity to protect herself and fight her own battles, and in nine cases out of ten she resents the interference of the leisure class in her affairs as much as she would charity. The leaders of every class should be its own strong spirits. And the term “class consciousness” was not invented by fashionable society.
There is another problem that women, forced imminently or prospectively to support themselves, must face before long, and that is the heavy immigration from Europe. Of course some of those competent women over there will keep the men’s jobs they hold now, and among the widows and the fatherless there will be a large number of clerks and agriculturists. But many réformés will be able to fill those positions satisfactorily, and, when sentiment has subsided, young women at least (who are also excellent workers) will begin to think of husbands; and, unless the war goes on for many years and reduces our always available crop, American girls of the working class will have to look to their laurels both ways.
Here is the reverse of the picture, which possibly may save the too prosperous and tempting United States from what in the end could not fail to be a further demoralization of her ancient ideals and depletion of the old American stock:
No matter how many men are killed in a war there are more males when peace is declared than the dead and blasted, unless starvation literally has sent the young folks back to the earth. During any war children grow up, and even in a war of three years’ duration it is estimated that as against four million males killed there will be six million young males to carry on the race as well as its commerce and industries. For the business of the nation and high finance there are the men whose age saved them from the dangers of the battlefield.
There will therefore be many million marriageable men in Europe if the war ends in 1917. But they will, for the most part, be of a very tender age indeed, and normal young women between twenty and thirty do not like spring chickens. They are beloved only by idealess girls of their own age, by a certain type of young women who are alluded to slightingly as “crazy about boys,” possibly either because men of mature years find them uninteresting or because of a certain vampire quality in their natures, and by blasée elderly women who generally foot the bills.
Dr. Talcott Williams pointed out to me not long since that after all great wars, and notably after our own Civil War, there has been a notable increase in the number of marriages in which the preponderance of years was on the wrong side. Also that it was not until after our own war that the heroine of fiction began to reverse the immemorial procedure and marry a man her inferior in years. In other words, anything she could get. This would almost argue that fiction is not only the historian of life but its apologist.
It is quite true that young men coming to maturity during majestic periods of the world’s history are not likely to have the callow brains and petty ideals which distinguished the average youth of peace. Even boys of fourteen these days talk intelligently of the war and the future. They read the newspapers, even subscribing for one if at a boarding-school. In the best of the American universities the men have been alive to the war from the first, and a large proportion of the young Americans who have done gallant service with the American Ambulance Corps had recently graduated when the war broke out. Others are serving during vacations, and are difficult to lure back to their studies.
Some of the young Europeans of eighteen or twenty will come home from the trenches when peace is declared, and beyond a doubt will compel the love if not the respect of damsels of twenty-five and upward. But will they care whether they fascinate spinsters of twenty-five and upward, or not? The fact is not to be overlooked that there will be as many young girls as youths, and as these girls also have matured during their long apprenticeship to sorrow and duty, it is not to be imagined they will fail to interest young warriors of their own age—nor fail to battle for their rights with every device known to the sex.
Temperament must be taken into consideration, of course, and a certain percentage of men and women of unbalanced ages will be drawn together. That happens in times of peace. Moreover it is likely that a large number of young Germans in this country either will conceive it their duty to return to Germany and marry there or import the forlorn in large numbers. If they have already taken to themselves American wives it is on the cards that they will renounce them also. There is nothing a German cannot be made to believe is his duty to the Fatherland, and he was brought up not to think. But if monarchy falls in Germany, and a republic, socialistic or merely democratic, rises on the ruins, then it is more than likely that the superfluous women will be encouraged to transfer themselves and their maidenly dreams to the great dumping-ground of the world.
Unless we legislate meanwhile.
There are four other ways in which women (exclusive of the artist class) are enjoying remunerative careers: as social secretaries, play brokers, librarians, and editors; and it seems to me that I cannot do better than to drop generalities in this final chapter and give four of the most notable instances in which women have “made good” in these highly distinctive professions. I have selected four whom I happen to know well enough to portray at length: Maria de Barril, Alice Kauser, Belle da Costa Greene, and Honoré Willsie. It is true that Mrs. Willsie, being a novelist, belongs to the artist class, but she is also an editor, which to my mind makes her success in both spheres the more remarkable. To edit means hours daily of routine, details, contacts; mechanical work, business, that would drive most writers of fiction quite mad. But Mrs. Willsie is exceptionally well balanced.
A limited number of young women thrown abruptly upon their own resources become social secretaries if their own social positions have insensibly prepared them for the position, and if they live in a city large enough to warrant this fancy but by no means inactive post. In Washington they are much in demand by Senators’ and Congressmen’s wives suddenly translated from a small town where the banker’s lady hobnobbed with the prosperous undertaker’s family, to a city where the laws of social precedence are as rigid as at the court of the Hapsburgs and a good deal more complicated. But these young women must themselves have lived in Washington for many years, or they will be forced to divide their salary with a native assistant.
The most famous social secretary in the United States, if not in the world, is Maria de Barril, and she is secretary not to one rich woman but to New York society itself. Her position, entirely self-made, is unique and secure, and well worth telling.
Pampered for the first twenty years of her life like a princess and with all her blood derived from one of the oldest and most relaxed nations in Europe, she was suddenly forced to choose between sinking out of sight, the mere breath kept in her body, perhaps, on a pittance from distant relatives, or going to work.
She did not hesitate an instant. Being of society she knew its needs, and although she was too young to look far ahead and foresee the structure which was to rise upon these tentative foundations, she shrewdly began by offering her services to certain friends often hopelessly bewildered with the mass of work they were obliged to leave to incompetent secretaries and housekeepers. One thing led to another, as it always does with brave spirits, and to-day Miss de Barril has a position in life which, with its independence and freedom, she would not exchange for that of any of her patrons. She conducted her economic venture with consummate tact from the first. Owing to a promise made her mother, the haughtiest of old Spanish dames as I remember her, she never has entered on business the houses of the society that employs her, and has retained her original social position apparently without effort.
She has offices, which she calls her embassy, and there, with a staff of secretaries, she advises, dictates, revises lists, issues thousands of invitations a week during the season, plans entertainments for practically all of New York society that makes a business of pleasure.
Some years ago a scion of one of those New York families so much written about that they have become almost historical, married after the death of his mother, and wished to introduce his bride at a dinner-dance in the large and ugly mansion whose portals in his mother’s day opened only to the indisputably elect.
The bridegroom found his mother’s list, but, never having exercised his masculine faculties in this fashion before, and hazy as to whether all on that list were still alive or within the pale, he wrote to the social ambassadress asking her to come to his house on a certain morning and advise him. Miss de Barril replied that not even for a member of his family, devoted as she was to it, would she break her promise to her mother, and he trotted down to her without further parley. Moreover, she was one of the guests at the dinner.
Of course it goes without saying that Miss de Barril has not only brains and energy, but character, a quite remarkably fascinating personality, and a thorough knowledge of the world. Many would have failed where she succeeded. She must have had many diplomatists among her ancestors, for her tact is incredible, although in her case Latin subtlety never has degenerated into hypocrisy. No woman has more devoted friends. Personally I know that I should have thrown them all out of the window the first month and then retired to a cave on a mountain. She must have the social sense in the highest degree, combined with a real love of “the world.”
Her personal appearance may have something to do with her success. Descended on one side from the Incas of Peru, she looks like a Spanish grandee, and is known variously to her friends as “Inca,” “Queen,” and “Doña Maria”—my own name for her. When I knew her first she found it far too much of an effort to pull on her stockings and was as haughty and arrogant a young girl as was to be found in the then cold and stately city of New York. She looks as haughty as ever because it is difficult for a Spaniard of her blood to look otherwise; but her manners are now as charming as her manner is imposing; and if the bottom suddenly fell out of Society her developed force of character would steer her straight into another lucrative position with no disastrous loss of time.
It remains to be pointed out that she would have failed in this particular sphere if New York Society had been as callous and devoid of loyalty even in those days, as the novel of fashion has won its little success by depicting it. The most socially eminent of her friends were those that helped her from the first, and with them she is as intimate as ever to-day.
Credit must be given to Elisabeth Marbury for inventing the now flourishing and even over-crowded business of play broker; but as she was of a strongly masculine character and as surrounded by friends as Miss de Barril, her success is neither as remarkable nor as interesting as that of Alice Kauser, who has won the top place in this business in a great city to which she came poor and a stranger.
Not that she had; grown up in the idea that she must make her own way in the world. Far from it. It is for that reason I have selected her as another example of what a girl may accomplish if she have character and grit backed up with a thorough intellectual training. For, it must never be forgotten, unless one is a genius it is impossible to enter the first ranks of the world’s workers without a good education and some experience of the world. Parents that realize this find no sacrifice too great to give their children the most essential of all starts in life. But the extraordinary thing in the United States of America is how comparatively few parents do realize it. Moreover, how many are weak enough, even when with a reasonable amount of self-sacrifice they could send their children through college, to yield to the natural desire of youth to “get out and hustle.”
Miss Kauser was born in Buda Pest, in the United States Consular Agency, for her father, although a Hungarian, was Consular Agent. It was an intellectual family and on her mother’s side musically gifted. Miss Kauser’s aunt, Etelka Gerster, when she came to this country as a prima donna had a brief but brilliant career, and the music-loving public prostrated itself. But her wonderful voice was a fragile coloratura, and her first baby demolished it. Berta Gerster, Miss Kauser’s mother, was almost equally renowned for a while in Europe.
Mr. Kauser himself was a pupil of Abel Blouet at the Beaux Arts, but he fought in the Revolution of 1848 in Hungary, and later with Garibaldi in the Hungarian Legion in Italy.
Miss Kauser, who must have been born well after these stirring events, was educated by French governesses and Polish tutors. Her friends tell the story of her that she grew up with the determination to be the most beautiful woman in the world, and when she realized that, although handsome and imposing, she was not a great beauty according to accepted standards, she philosophically buried this callow ambition and announced, “Very well; I shall be the most intellectual woman in the world.”
There are no scales by which to make tests of these delicate degrees of the human mind, even in the case of authors who put forth four books a year, but there is no question that Miss Kauser is a highly accomplished woman, with a deep knowledge of the literature of many lands, a passionate feeling for style, and a fine judgment that is the result of years of hard intellectual work and an equally profound study of the world. And who shall say that the wild ambitions of her extreme youth did not play their part in making her what she is to-day? I have heard “ambition” sneered at all my life, but never by any one who possessed the attribute itself, or the imaginative power to appreciate what ambition has meant in the progress of the world.
Miss Kauser studied for two years at the École Monceau in Paris, although she had been her father’s housekeeper and a mother to the younger children since the age of twelve. Both in Paris and Buda Pest she was in constant association with friends of her father, who developed her intellectual breadth.
Financial reverses brought the family to America and they settled in Pensacola, Florida. Here Miss Kauser thought it was high time to put her accomplishments to some use and help out the family exchequer. She began almost at once to teach French and music. When her brothers were older she made up her mind to seek her fortune in New York and arrived with, a letter or two. For several months she taught music and literature in private families. Then Mary Bisland introduced her to Miss Marbury, where she attended to the French correspondence of the office for a year.
But these means of livelihood were mere makeshifts. Ambitious, imperious, and able, it was not in her to work for others for any great length of time. As soon as she felt that she “knew the ropes” in New York she told certain friends she had made that she wished to go into the play brokerage business for herself. As she inspires confidence—this is one of her assets—her friends staked her, and she opened her office with the intention of promoting American plays only. Her trained mind rapidly adapted itself to business and in the course of a few years she was handling the plays of many of the leading dramatists for a proportionate number of leading producers. When the war broke out, so successful was she that she had a house of her own in the East Thirties, furnished with the beautiful things she had collected during her yearly visits to Europe—for long since she had opened offices in Paris and London, her business outgrowing its first local standard.
The war hit her very hard. She had but recently left the hospital after a severe operation, which had followed several years of precarious health. She was quite a year reestablishing her former strength and full capacity for work. One of the most exuberantly vital persons I had ever met, she looked as frail as a reed during that first terrible year of the war, but now seems to have recovered her former energies.
There was more than the common results of an operation to exasperate her nerves and keep her vitality at a low ebb. Some thirty of her male relatives were at the Front, and the whole world of the theater was smitten with a series of disastrous blows. Sixteen plays on the road failed in one day, expensive plays ran a week in New York. Managers went into bankruptcy. It was a time of strain and uncertainty and depression, and nobody suffered more than the play brokers. Miss Kauser as soon as the war broke out rented her house and went into rooms that she might send to Hungary all the money she could make over expenses, and for a year this money was increasingly difficult to collect, or even to make. But if she despaired no one heard of it. She hung on. By and by the financial tide turned for the country at large and she was one of the first to ride on the crest. Her business is now greater than ever, and her interest in life as keen.
This “live wire,” one of the outstanding personalities in New York, despite her youth, is the antithesis of the two previous examples of successful women in business, inasmuch as no judge on the bench nor surgeon at the Front ever had a severer training for his profession than she. People who meet for the first time the young tutelar genius of Mr. Morgan’s Library, take for granted that any girl so fond of society, so fashionable in dress and appointments, and with such a comet’s tail of admirers, must owe her position with its large salary to “pull,” and that it is probably a sinecure anyway.
Little they know.
Belle Greene, who arrests even the casual if astute observer with her overflowing joie de vivre and impresses him as having the best of times in this best of all possible worlds, is perhaps the “keenest on her job” of any girl in the city of New York. Let any of these superficial admirers attempt to obtain entrance, if he can, to the Library, during the long hours of work, and with the natural masculine intention of clinching the favorable impression he made on the young lady the evening before, and he will depart in haste, moved to a higher admiration or cursing the well-known caprice of woman, according to his own equipment.
For Miss Greene’s determination to be one of the great librarians of the world took form within her precocious brain at the age of thirteen and it has never fluctuated since. Special studies during both school and recreation hours were pursued to the end in view: Latin, Greek, French, German, history—the rise and spread of civilization in particular, and as demonstrated by the Arts, Sciences, and Literature of the world. When she had absorbed all the schools could give her, she took an apprenticeship in the Public Library system in order thoroughly to ground herself in the clerical and routine phases of the work.
She took a special course in bibliography at the Amherst Summer Library School, and then entered the Princeton University Library on nominal pay at the foot of the ladder, and worked up through every department in order to perfect herself for the position of University Librarian.
While at Princeton she decided to specialize in early printing, rare books, and historical and illuminated manuscripts. She studied the history of printing from its inception in 1445 to the present day. It was after she had taken up the study of manuscripts from the standpoint of their contents that she found that it was next to impossible to progress further along that line in this country, as at that time we had neither the material nor the scholars. She has often expressed the wish that there had been in her day a Morgan Library for consultation.
When she had finished the course at Princeton she went abroad and studied with the recognized authorities in England and Italy. Ten years, in fact, were spent in unceasing application, what the college boy calls “grind,” without which Miss Greene is convinced it is impossible for any one to succeed in any vocation or attain a distinguished position. To all demands for advice her answer is, “Work, work, and more work.”
She took hold of the Morgan Library in its raw state, when the valuable books and MSS. Mr. Morgan had bought at sales in Europe were still packed in cases; and out of that initial disorder Belle Greene, almost unaided, has built up one of the greatest libraries in the world. Soon after her installation she began a systematic course in Art research. She visited the various museums and private collections of this country, and got in touch with the heads of the different departments and their curators. She followed their methods until it was borne in upon her that most of them were antiquated and befogging, whereupon she began another course in Europe during the summer months in order to study under the experts in the various fields of art; comparing the works of artists and artisans of successive periods, applying herself to the actual technique of painting in its many phases, studying the influence of the various masters upon their contemporaries and future disciples.
By attending auction sales, visiting dealers constantly and all exhibitions, reading all art periodicals, she soon learned the commercial value of art objects.
Thus in time she was able and with authority to assist Mr. Morgan in the purchase of his vast collections which embraced art in all its forms. With the exception of that foundation of the library which caused Mr. Morgan to engage her services, she has purchased nearly every book and manuscript it contains.
Another branch of the collectors’ art that engaged Miss Greene’s attention was the clever forgery, a business in itself. She even went so far as to buy more than one specimen, thus learning by actual handling and examination to distinguish the spurious from the real. Now she knows the difference at a glance. She maintains there is even a difference in the smell Mr. Morgan bought nothing himself without consulting her; if they were on opposite sides of the world he used the cable.
Naturally Miss Greene to-day enjoys the entrée to that select and jealously guarded inner circle of authorities, who despise the amateur, but who recognize this American girl, who has worked as hard as a day laborer, as “one of them.” But she maintains that if she had not thoroughly equipped herself in the first place not even the great advantages she enjoyed as Mr. Morgan’s librarian could have given her the peculiar position she now enjoys, a position that is known to few of the people she plays about with in her leisure hours.
She has adopted the mottoes of the two contemporaries she has most admired: Mr. Morgan’s “Onward and Upward” and Sarah Bernhardt’s “Quand Même.”
Honoré Willsie, who comes of fine old New England stock, although she looks like a Burne-Jones and would have made a furore in London in the Eighties, was brought up in the idea that an American woman should fit herself for self-support no matter what her birth and conditions. Her mother, although the daughter of a rich man, was brought up on the same principles, and taught school until she married. All her friends, no matter how well-off, made themselves useful and earned money.
Therefore, Mrs. Willsie was thoroughly imbued while a very young girl with the economic ideal, although her mother had planted with equal thoroughness the principle that it was every woman’s primary duty to marry and have a family.
Mrs. Willsie was educated at Madison, Wisconsin, beginning with the public schools and graduating from the University. She married immediately after leaving college, and, encouraged by her husband, a scientist, and as hard a student as herself, she began to write. Her first story followed the usual course; it was refused by every magazine to which she sent it; but, undiscouraged, she rewrote it for a syndicate. For a year after this she used the newspapers as a sort of apprenticeship to literature and wrote story after story until she had learned the craft of “plotting.” When she felt free in her new medium she began writing for the better magazines; and, compared with most authors, she has had little hard climbing in her upward course. Naturally, there were obstacles and setbacks, but she is not of the stuff that ten times the number could discourage.
Then came the third stage. She wrote a novel. It was refused by many publishers in New York, but finally accepted as a serial in the first magazine that had rejected it.
This was The Heart of the Desert. After that followed Still Jim which established her and paved the way for an immediate reception for that other fine novel of American ideals, Lydia of the Pines.
It was about two years ago that she was asked to undertake the editorship of the Delineator, and at first she hesitated, although the “job” appealed to her; she had no reason to believe that she possessed executive ability. The owner, who had “sized her up,” thought differently, and the event has justified him. She ranks to-day as one of the most successful, courageous, and resourceful editors of woman’s magazines in the country. The time must come, of course, when she no longer will be willing to give up her time to editorial work, now that there is a constant demand for the work she loves best; but the experience with its contacts and its mental training must always have its value. The remarkable part of it was that she could fill such a position without having served some sort of an apprenticeship first. Nothing but the sound mental training she had received at home and at college, added to her own determined will, could have saved her from failure in spite of her mental gifts.
Mrs. Willsie, like all women worth their salt, says that she never has felt there was the slightest discrimination made against her work by publishers or editors because she was a woman.
NOTE.—Six months ago I wrote asking Madame d’Andigné to send me notes of her work before becoming the President of Le Bien—Être du Blessé. She promised, but no woman in France is busier. The following arrived after the book was in press, so I can only give it verbatim.—G.A.
At the time this gigantic struggle broke out I was in America. My first thought was to get to France as soon as possible. I sailed on August 2nd for Cherbourg but as we were pursued by two German ships our course was changed and I landed in England. After many trials and tribulations I reached Paris. The next day I went to the headquarters of the French Red Cross and offered my services. I showed the American Red Cross certificate which had been given to me at the end of my services at Camp Meade during the Spanish-American War. As I had had practically little surgical experience since the course I took at the Rhode Island Hospital before the Spanish-American War I asked to take a course in modern surgery. I was told that my experience during that war and my Red Cross certificate was more than sufficient. After serious reflection I decided that I could render more service to France by getting in the immense crops that were standing in our property in the south of France than by nursing the wounded soldiers. Far less glorious but of vital importance! So off I went to the south of France. By the middle of October thousands of kilos of cereals and hay and over 20,000 hectoliters of wine were ready to supply the army at the front. I then spent my time in various hospitals studying the up-to-date system of hospital war relief work. It was not difficult to see the deficiencies—the means of rapidly transporting the wounded from the “postes de secours” to an operating table out of the range of cannons—in other words auto-ambulances—impossible to find in France at that time. So I cabled to America. The first was offered by my father. It was not until January that this splendid spacious motor-ambulance arrived and was offered immediately to the French Red Cross. Presently others arrived and were offered to the Service de Santé. These cars have never ceased to transport the wounded from the Front lines to hospitals in the War Zone. I heard of one in the north and another in the Somme. This work finished, I took up duty as assistant in an operating room in Paris to get my hand in. I next went to a military hospital at Amiens. This hospital was partly closed soon afterward, and, anxious to have a great deal of work, I went to the military hospital at Versailles.
The work in the operating room was very absorbing, as it was there that that wonderful apparatus for locating a bullet by mathematical calculation was invented and first used. There, between those four white walls I have seen bullets extracted from the brain, the lungs, the liver, the “vesicule biliaire,” etc., etc.
From there I was called to a large military hospital at the time of the attack in Champagne in September, 1915. Soon I was asked to organize and superintend the Service of the Mussulman troops. At first it was hard and unsatisfactory. I spoke only a few words of Arabic and they spoke but little French. I had difficulty in overcoming the contempt that the Mussulmans have for women. They were all severely wounded and horribly mutilated, but the moral work was more tiring than the physical.
However, little by little they got used to me and I to them. We became the best of friends and I never experienced more simple childlike gratitude than with these “Sidis.” I remember one incident worth quoting. I was suffering from a severe grippy cold—they saw that I was tired and felt miserable. I left the ward for a few moments. On returning I found that they had pushed a bed a little to one side in a corner and had turned down the bed-clothes and placed a hot-water jug in it (without hot water). The occupant was a Moroccan as black as the ace of spades; he was trepanned but was allowed up a certain number of hours a day. “Maman,”—they all called me Maman—”toi blessée, toi ergut (lie down) nous tubibe (doctor) nous firmli (nurse).” And this black, so-called savage, Moroccan took up his post beside the bed as I had often done for him. I explained as best as I could that I would have to have a permission signed by the Medecin-Chef, otherwise I would be punished; and the Medecin-Chef had left the hospital for the night. He shook his wise black head, “Maman blessée, Maman blessée!”
One called me one day and asked me what my Allah was like. I told him I thought he was probably very much like his. Well! if my Allah was not good to me, theirs would take care of me, they would see to that.
In May, 1916, I was asked to organize a war relief work[H]Le Bien—Être du Blessé. at the request of the Service de Santé. This work was to provide the “grands blessés et malades” with light nourishing food, in other words, invalid food. The rules and regulations of the French military hospitals are not sufficiently elastic to allow the administering of such food. In time of war it would be easier almost to remove Mt. Blanc than to change these rules and regulations. There was just one solution—private war relief work.
So, with great regret, I bade good-bye to these children I never would have consented to have left had it not been for the fact that I knew from experience how necessary was the war relief work which was forced upon me, as I had seen many men die from want of light nourishing food.
[A] She is still hard at work, June, 1917.
[B] It is called acacia in Europe.
[C] No doubt there are now little Uncle Sams.
[D] Naturally this should have been the first chapter, both on account of the importance of the work and the position of Madame d’Haussonville among the women of France, but unfortunately the necessary details did not come until the book was almost ready for press.
[E] All donations in money are sent to the bankers, Messers John Munroe & Co., Eighth Floor, 360 Madison Avenue, New York.
[F] Dr. Rosalie Morton, the leading woman doctor and surgeon of New York, who also studied this subject at first hand, agrees with me that the war tasks have improved the health of the European women.
[G] The French are far too clever to let the women in the munition factories injure themselves. They have double, treble, and even quadruple shifts.
[H] Le Bien—Être du Blessé.