WOMEN’S PART IN THIS NEW WORLD
Every Worker Must Remember She Is Valuable to Economic Life of the Nation.
ASSIST IN FOOD PRODUCTION
Should Utilize Household Experiences, Employ All Their Human Affection and Exert Whole Capacity of Understanding.
By MISS JANE ADDAMS.
During these eventful days when the awakened minds and aroused consciences of the entire civilized world are turned towards measures of reconstruction, it is well for women to ask themselves what distinctive part they will bear in this tremendous undertaking which involves not only the welfare of all living women but the future of their children.
It is obvious that the women of America have a most advantageous position in this task. Women in this country have always had a unique freedom from traditional restrictions and unusual opportunities for higher education in schools. American women have become organized into social and educational clubs, into mutual benefit societies, into religious and nationalistic groups whose membership counts into the millions. Many of these organizations reflect the cosmopolitan composition of American society and all of them register the relatively high intelligence and independence of American women. The courses of study in some of these organizations, as well as their cosmopolitan membership, have prepared thousands of women to take a disinterested, far-sighted view of public affairs. In those states in which women have been voting and in many other states through their suffrage organizations, women have long been studying political questions. At this tumultuous moment when the fall of Russian and German autocracy has so momentously changed the world outlook, it is hoped that these women have a sense of historical perspective, and that they may be able to capitalize our political history for the benefit of other nations, urging the experience of this country in the abolition of legal barriers between the several states, the giving of equal rights to all citizens, the establishment of a federal supreme court, and the necessity of federal control over the common highways of commerce.
It is also hoped that they will be able to hold fast to that good will so desperately needed for the healing of the nations, by remembering the valuable contributions to American life made by people who have emigrated here from every country in Europe. Already a desire to help nations less fortunate than our own has expressed itself among women in many ways. While congress has been advocating a restriction of immigration for the next four years, I have heard American women urge that women's organizations of various sorts might well offer to take care of war widows with little children who wished to emigrate to the United States, by guaranteeing to the government that such family groups should not become public charges. Women would undertake such a task in all humility of spirit, realizing that the United States has been subjected to the strain of war for a shorter time than the other powers.
Women Have Had Much to Do.
American women as a whole have also enjoyed a higher standard of living than those of any other country, and through the invention of machinery and labor-saving devices have been relieved of much of the drudgery which women in other countries have borne in their households. They have been able to respond in overwhelming numbers to the service under the Red Cross for the preparation of hospital supplies, and clothing for war refugees. Women of all sorts have met in groups under nation-wide auspices to respond to these demands, and have found not only a heightened patriotism, but a new sense of comradeship in the mutual tasks. The results of much of this activity will remain in America itself, in the establishment of country nursing and of community councils, or in the development of those war activities instituted by the children's bureau, which resulted in a more accurate knowledge of the status of the children in the nation, and in the provision for adequate care for all maternity cases, even when the mothers live in remote pioneer parts of the country.
The women responsible for 22,000,000 kitchens who were asked during the war to modify their accustomed ways, to make a technical study of resources to conscientiously conserve food, will be obliged to continue such effort it the world's immediate needs are to be met. Fortunately thousands of American women have so stretched their sympathy and sense of responsibility to include the care of children in Belgium and in Armenia, that they can never again become indifferent to them. These women have also realized that if at the end of the war, whole populations are left depleted by malnutrition and their national vitality thus permanently lowered, such nations will be able to make little use of the great gifts of political freedom and self-determination which the success [page 2] of the allies promised to place in their hands.
It has not been easy to do any of these things; to make radical changes in well-established habits requires nothing less than a genuine incentive and a driving motive. These were supplied during the war by the patriotic sense of responding to national needs; they must be continued by the conscientiousness of participating in a world-wide endeavor.
The position of women in American industry has been much freer and more democratic than in any other country ever since the earliest entrance of women and girls into the New England textile mills. Although our states differ enormously in their industrial legislation, certain of them have enacted laws securing a one day's rest in seven, abolition of night work, Saturday half-holiday, and eight-hour day and a minimum wage for women in the lowest paid industries. These standards safeguarding the health of working women are constantly being advanced by the women in industry service in the department of labor, created during the war, as were the federal employment bureaus, which have women's departments.
Of the eight million women engaged in gainful occupations at the opening of the war, less than two million were in agricultural pursuits, until many more took the places of the men who left the farms for the trenches.
Cultivated Back Yards and Lots.
In addition to these women who went into actual farming and dairying were the many women who in the spring of 1917 cultivated two million back yards and vacant lots, so that the first war crop of potatoes showed an increase of a hundred million bushels over that of the previous year. In response to the urgent plea that the United States must produce enough food to make up the bitter deficiencies of the devastated countries of Europe, the latent capacities in our immigrant colonies were utilized through community gardens, and women everywhere were stimulated by the example of the women's land army. Did the great success of these activities make clear once again that food above every other product responds to individual attention and is greatly benefited by being treated in small quantities? Do we need "integration of function" as economists say, in our food production, and are the children's war clubs for raising pigs and bees and poultry not only valuable because they increase the amount of food but also because they introduce the best methods? The change which took place in American agriculture through the wider participation of women during the war may result to our lasting benefit. We may have the more intensive methods in American farming which have long been needed.
American women at this crucial moment must therefore show no signs of spiritual exhaustion. It has been their part in the war to nurse, to feed and to keep alive the forces of social regeneration at home. In carrying on these perfectly normal activities day by day these women have gradually discovered that no child in Serbia could be kept from starvation, that no Red Cross supplies could reach Mesopotamia save through international administration of food or through the interallied control of shipping resources. It has been the most natural possible approach to the problem of world organization. Quite as women entered into city affairs when clean milk and sanitary housing became matters for municipal legislation, and into state activities when the premature labor of children and the spread of tuberculosis became issues in a political campaign, as women were interested in federal legislation when pure food regulations and other such matters were being considered, so they now may normally concern themselves with international affairs because these are now dealing with such human and poignant matters as the rescue of women and children from starvation and the safeguarding of living standards for large devastated regions. To help make secure America's place in the new world is probably the most compelling challenge which has been made upon woman's constructive powers for centuries. To meet it adequately, women must utilize their household experiences, much employ all their human affection and must exert their whole capacity of understanding.
Tendency to Experiment.
Fortunately the reaction from such vital and generous experiences -- as American women have lately encountered -- is a tendency to experiment, to modify and to change old conditions.
The world at this moment is under a sense of moral compulsion; there is a demand that mankind should "exert all his power of affection and all his clarity of vision in order to make a great, moral adjustment, which shall comprehend the world, and so far as possible end war."
Once more it has been made clear that social passion transfigures and transcends all other emotions. Literally millions of men have subordinated their individual lives for a social idea which they knew could only be attained in a future lying far beyond their own participation. Men and women in a score of nations are cherishing memories of this heroic sacrifice of their own sons. No matter what a man's frailties otherwise may be, if he has been willing to risk death in the services he has chosen, that fact consecrates him forever.
Under such widespread influence every human and governmental institution is being challenged to reveal its finer meaning, and it is for women to make the world forever discontented with their former achievements.