Woman's Industrial Subjection.—No. 1.—Its Origin

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J. K. Ingalls, "Woman's Industrial Subjection.—No. 1.—Its Origin," The Woman's Tribune, February 23, 1889, p. 82.

Woman's Industrial Subjection. No. I.— Its Origin.

Preceding the subject of political inequality, to which woman has been reduced, as well as the question whether equal franchise will remedy the injustice she sustains from the existing industrial and economical arrangements, an inquiry into the nature and origin of her present social status seems necessary.

As we trace industry in its early beginnings, we shall find it greatly if not wholly due to what we now denominate "the weaker sex." But it was once strong enough to do the principal work of the world; man's energies being expended in hunting, fishing, and fighting, neither of which have any positive relation to social progress. Social industry is as old as the human race. Far older than any recorded history. Modern discoveries in caves and in the ancient mounds and temples,—the date of whose erection can only be guessed at, through early tradition—reveal evidences of human labor, through numerous successive periods, the last of which does not connect with our most ancient history. The people who dwelt in caves, of the stone age, the age of pottery, or bronze, and even of iron, had already in succession achieved vast triumphs over nature, through the arts, and the manufacture of articles of use, as well as implements of war: and had attained certain degrees of equity in their social adjustments long before the Bible was written, or any book whatever. For before any writing could be done, or characters, however rude, could he chiseled on marble, innumerable experiments, under the greatest discouragements and well nigh endless failures, had been required to educate the mind, the eye, the hand, to the accomplishment of such work.

The search for and the devouring of food are common to all living things, even to vegetables; but where industry first displays a social feature, is where the insect, bird or mammal exerts itself to provide for and rear its young. With the two latter this is chiefly done by the female. The male is often not even an assistant. With birds the female is often the builder of the nest, the male sometimes bringing material and assisting in feeding the young, and in some cases assisting in the incubation.

In the dawn of industry distinctly human, woman doubtless took the initiative. Nature had allotted to her the bearing of children, and the caring for them. Evidence that to her the home domestic industries and economics, which, though excluded from our "trade economics," form the base of and render possible the higher and more complex, owed their rise, is abundant in the habits, customs and traditions of all primitive races. For in the ceaseless wars between families and tribes, the men were constantly employed in war, and preparation for it. This and the chase absorbed their time, which scarcely allowed them opportunity for the making of weapons. The women cared for the offspring, cooked the wild meat, ordered and kept the tent or cabin, and constructed the family garments from furs. She also lead in such agriculture as was known to the tribe.

Mr. Schoolcraft says in regard to the American Indians: "It is well known that corn planting and corn gathering, at least among the still uncolonized tribes are left to the women. It is not generally known, perhaps, that this labor is not compulsory, and that it is assumed by the women, as a just cquivalent, in their view, for the onerous and continuous labor of the other sex, in providing meat and skins for clothing by the chase, and in defending their villages against their enemies." It seems to have been at first assumed from the very necessity of the case. He says, in another place: "The wife of the hunter has the entire control of the wigwam. To each person who is a member of the lodge family is assigned a fixed seat. In this manner the personal rights are guarded. The female is punctilious as to her own, so that perfect order is maintained." Both Mrs. Jamieson and Mrs. Schoolcraft, herself of Indian descent, testify that considering the relative condition of their husbands, the position of the Indian woman is higher and freer than that of the white woman,"

There is said to be a tribe in Arizona, the Zunis, with whom the woman controls the home and all property. She also has the full authority in the married relation, and can send back to his mother an unsatisfactory husband, thus divorcing him in as summary a manner as did the ancient Hebrew one of his discarded wives.

Whatever may have been the nature of the primitive union of the sexes, they must have wrought together in effecting any salutary results in creating property and rearing offspring. Whether one was a mere slave to the other, or a partially recognized partner, would not obviate this necessity. There must have been some assignment or assumption of spheres, and a certain division of labor: that affecting more directly the welfare of the family and offspring falling to the woman,

The current notion that the origin of marriage was simply the capture of a wife, borne forcibly home, and held in bondage for life, is altogether too simplistic. Customs like this may have obtained in certain eras, among certain tribes, but save in times where utter despotism prevailed, or among retrograde tribes exceptionally barbaric, the man has ever sought his mate by kindly approach and manifest deference. Our aborigines had no despotic leadership and among them outrage or indignity to woman, or sexual excess, was unknown. Yet what one authority says has sometimes doubtless been true: "Of old the modes of getting a wife were the same as of acquiring property—capture, gift, sale." And we have here a key to the process by which woman was subjected industrially: it is the same as that by which male slaves were, through an inversion of the principle of property, which is normally a principle of liberty, not of slavery. All this, however, does not enlighten us as to the previous condition from which woman had been reduced to bondage. Yet it accounts for her position generally, under polygamic marriage. It can hardly account for it under monogamy, except as a relic. But there was a time when woman was not a slave. It seems well established that polyandria ante dates polygamy. In its inception woman seems to have been master of the situation; and that it existed anterior to polygamy, is evident from the fact that it has been superceded by the latter, in those countries where tracts of its ancient prevalence still appear. These traces are found in every part of the globe, and indicate at some time greatly remote a wide if not universal prevalence. The Hebrew custom compelling the man to take his brother's widow is doubtless a relic of it. Polygamy, now in its decadence, still prevails over large areas and among comparatively civilized peoples. This shows it to be the more recent of the two.

Some writers incline to the opinion that the former system of marriage arose from a disparity in the numbers of the sexes caused by the killing of female children, who were burdensome and useless in their savage warfare It can hardly be doubted that previous to the growth of polygamy woman enjoyed a greater degree of independence than under it. Being the principal worker it would be irrational to sacrifice her. It is well known too that barbaric nations, while putting the males of a conquered people to the sword, were careful to spare the women for slaves. Where the more ancient system of marriage still exists, it is true that it is so modified by the system that superceded it (polygamy) that now the woman does not own the husbands as property, but rather that the husband's brothers own her in common; but it was originally different, for the woman was the first maker and owner of the home, and the husband was but an appendage to it. And it by no means follows, as has been supposed, that this form of marriage grew out of a previous state of general promiscuity. From the primitive union, which was entered into for a season and probably for life, a divergence would inevitably take place, through ignorance and inexperience; first to one extreme and then to the other, to polyandria first, since woman was in possession of what corresponds to home and property, then, as the man developed physical strength and love of power, to polygamy; returning at last as with all movements to the central and direct line of progress. And this is what has actually transpired.

The idea that polyandria sprang from the practice of killing female children is not more likely than that polygamy sprang from the practice of killing or making eunuchs of male children. That would in either case he simply putting the effect in place of the cause.

To the orderly development of industry and economy, war has been obstructive and has given hut an indirect aid, such as is derived from mistakes, by improvement through the experience they furnish But the making of home and the rearing of offspring have proved a constant aid and stimulus to these virtues. Labor must have produced wealth, appreciable to the desire of the raider or robber, before he would wage war for the sake of plunder, or to enslave the laborer and indeed before property could have been obtained in any form, whether by capture, gift or purchase. With the conquests of war and the organized governments of force to which it lead, came the plunder of the worker and his ultimate enslavement: and at the same time and as a part of the process, the reduction of woman to a thing and chattel. Woman with the man became liable to "capture, gift or sale," under the rude and barbaric trade which followed in the intervals of horrid war and the struggles for power. It is to such sources and precedents that every civil inequality and disability of woman can he traced. How chivalrous must be the brother and husband, who under the pretense of protecting her, subjects her to "a rule of conduct" only thus derived and justified!

The development of greater physical strength, through the toils of the chase, and the fierce combats with each other, gave man the power of brute force over the woman, who, if not weaker originally, became so through bearing children, indoor work and confinement to care of the young. As war became honorable, and success in it an object of political ambition, the wife, sister and mother sank to the level of the plundered or captured slave, whose involuntary service could be compelled by the lash. Thus woman's subjection has been from the first associated, in fact identical with that of her toiling brother, whose unrequited labor has strengthened the hand of their mutual taskmaster. The most hopeful sign of the tines is found in the fact that the woman's movement and the labor organization begin to appreciate this truth and work in accord.

Having thus briefly sketched the rise of woman's industrial subjection, I will next inquire into the causes which have prolonged this state of subjection, through the barbaric, feudal and commercial eras, in defiance of the spirit of the age.

J. K. Ingalls, Glenora, N. Y.

  • Joshua King Ingalls, “Woman’s Industrial Subjection.—No. 1.—Its Origin,” The Woman’s Tribune ??, no. ?? (February 23, 1889): 82-??.