An Afternoon Call
AN AFTERNOON CALL
"Have either of you met Mrs. Frisbie yet?" The speaker, a bright faced little woman, glanced from one to the other of two ladies who had chanced to come together in her pleasant parlor that warm June afternoon.
"I met her last evening at the social, but it was just as she was leaving and I had no chance to get acquainted," returned one of the guests.
"I have not even seen her," remarked the other. "Is there anything unusual about her?"
"I think there is," rejoined her hostess, "but I will leave you to decide for yourselves what it is." "Do not go yet," she added, as her callers were rising, "there is Mrs. Frisbie just turning in at the gate now, and you will have a good opportunity to get acquainted."
The two ladies resumed their seats as their hostess hastened to the door to welcome the newcomer.
"Why, Mrs. Brown, have I intruded on a meeting?" exclaimed Mrs. Frisbie, as she caught a glimpse of the bonnets in the parlor.
"Oh, no; you have met Mrs. Montague, I believe"—that lady bowed and smiled a welcome—"and I want you to know Mrs. Ward, for she is interested in the subjects we have been discussing and I want you to help me convince her on one or two points."
"Yes," said Mrs. Ward, as she came forward with extended hand, "Mrs. Brown has been trying to make our circle in general and myself in particular believe that the diet and dress of children has an important bearing on the health and morals of the nation; but the connection seems just a little too far-fetched for me."
"The connection is certainly a vital one," returned Mrs. Frisbie, as she accepted the easy chair Mrs. Brown placed for her, "for the way the babies are fed, clothed and developed will determine the trend of national life."
"Really," said Mrs. Ward, in a half jesting tone, "between you, you make the way we feed and dress our children seem a matter of such immense importance that you fairly scare me."
"That is just what I would like to do, scare mothers into serious thought on these subjects," returned Mrs. Brown, decidedly. "For instance, there is the question of the dress of little children and its relation to morals—"
"Do excuse me, Mrs. Brown," broke in Mrs. Montague, who had been listening somewhat impatiently, "but if you are serious I would like to have you show me the connection."
"I confess I did not think of it at all seriously myself, until lately, when I began talking it over with Mrs. Frisbie here, who has given the subject considerable thought and study, and, I must say, she has put some new ideas into my head."
The two ladies turned to Mrs. Frisbie with looks of curiosity, while Mrs. Montague remarked: "Well, I am sure my children are as well and appropriately dressed as a little boy and girl need me." She glanced complacently out on the lawn where several children were playing, conspicuous among whom were a little boy and girl who looked as though they might have stepped out of the latest fashion plate. "Is that little boy your child, Mrs. Frisbie?" she continued, noting a stranger among the children.
"Annie is my child, but she is not a boy," replied Mrs. Frisbie, quietly, as she nodded and smiled through the open window on a sturdy looking child of three years, clad in a loose blouse waist with little knee pants to match, black stockings and low, broad soled shoes.
Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Montague both looked startled and a little blank. "Why, Mrs. Frisbie, I should think—" the latter began, but stopped suddenly while her face showed strong disapproval.
"What do you want to make a boy of the child for, Mrs. Frisibe?" asked Mrs. Ward, disgustedly.
"I have no intention of making a boy of Annie," returned Annie's mother, "and I had her in the orthodox dress for little girls—that is, the dress quite short I thought she was about as free in her movements as a boy. coats. She wore that costume for over a year and as I made the skirt of the dress quite short I thought she was about as free in her movements as a boy. Then her father persuaded me to try leaving off the skirt—you see the result in her present costume—and I confess, ladies," she added earnestly, "the result was a revelation to me. I saw at once how much easier Annie got about, climbing up and down and in and out of her baby sister's yard. The child herself was delighted with her freedom."
"But," put in the mother of the fashion-plate children, "you surely would not have us dress all little girls as if they were boys?"
"I would make no more difference in children's dress than nature makes in their bodies," replied Mrs. Frisbie. "I tell you what it is, ladies, though, judging from what Mrs. Brown has told me of the purity work of your circle, you are studying how to teach your children so as to avoid inculcating a morbid sex-consciousness, yet you dress them from about the age of two years in a way to emphasize the matter of sex as strongly as possible. At the same time you dress the little girl in a way to hamper her physical development from the start. It is just as natural and just as necessary for her best physical and mental development for a little girl to run and jump, climb and skip about as for a boy. Yet you put the boy first into very short skirts that barely come .to his knees and in a few years into knee pants; while his sister is condemned to skirts that come but a few inches from the ground, then into shorter and again into longer skirts—while during all her life her skirt is a constant hindrance to perfect freedom of movement. It is an actual bandage about her limbs whenever there is a breath of wind stirring. But the moral effect of the skirt is fully as bad, or worse, than the physical. From the time we tell the little girl to pull down her dress, so that her undergarments shall not be quite so conspicuously displayed, to the time when the idle loungers at the street corner watch her crossing in the rain, holding up her dainty skirts, while they make remarks about the lace and linen displayed, we teach that there is something relating to sex concealed beneath the skirt —the skirt which claims to hide but always allows half glimpses of the form and clothes beneath it. We strenuously cultivate a thoroughly immoral tendency of thought while claiming to wish not to stimulate a consciousness of sex, but quite the contrary."
"But if all little girls wore pants, how would we know which was which, boy or girl, in a group of children?" asked Mrs. Ward.
"What difference would it make if we did not know? Why should they not be simply children while they are children?" returned Mrs. Frisbie. "However," she added "I would make that difference and only that which is called for bv the natural difference in the bodies of the children. I would dress little girls so that they would have precisely as much freedom for their active little limbs as their brothers have. I would give them the same chance for the perfect development of every muscle in their bodies. Children trained in that way would have no sex-consciousness such as they now have almost before they can walk or talk. By starting right and then keeping on in that line we would not have so much to undo and so much to regret in later years."
"I never heard such a way of putting the skirt question before," exclaimed Mrs. Ward, "but you have put an idea into my head and I will think it over seriously."
"Set Mrs. Ward to thinking and we will see results," said Mrs. Brown, in smiling approval.
"But, Mrs. Frisbie," asked Mrs. Montague, "at what age would you put the girls into skirts, for they must come to them sometime?"
"As to that," began Mrs. Frisbie, "I have given some years to study and practical experiment on myself, and have reached the conclusion—"
"Mamma, mamma," cried little Annie Frisbie, running in at the open window, "papa is coming up the street."
"Then I must go at once," said Mrs. Frisbie, rising as she spoke. "Do come and see me, all of you," she added, "and I will tell you about my experiments."
- Estella Bachman Brokaw, “An Afternoon Call,” The New Crusade 11, no. 3 (May 1900): 30-33.