Woman's Industrial Subjection.—No. 3.—In Relation to Land Ownership

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J. K. Ingalls, "Woman's Industrial Subjection.—No. 3.—In Relation to Land Ownership," The Woman's Tribune, April 20, 1889, p. 147.

Woman's Industrial Subjection—No. 3.


Heretofore we have treated of woman as subject to the rule of the opposite sex, and of her relation to her active partner and co-worker, Let us now consider the relation of both to the complemental passive element, the land upon which all industry depends, and without which work and worker of both sexes would disappear. Sir William Petty, the seventeenth century herald of the Science of Political Economy, in a single sentence anticipates, by nearly a hundred years, the hypothesis, both of the French Economists, and of Adam Smith and his school: "Labor is the Father, the Lands the Mother of Wealth." These two agencies are present in the formation and procuration of all descriptions of goods. Without land and the forces and opportunities its occupancy yields, labor is a mere abstraction, without means of becoming embodied. And land is sterile, produces nothing in any economic sense, until labor is practically applied in its search, gathering, transportation and preparation for consumption.

To one who desires the products of toil without sharing the labor of procuring them, even by capture, the subjection of the worker, becomes a primary object. Hence slavery, and its necessary adjunct, dominion of the land required for its operations, arose as complemental parts of the system. Now exclusive ownership of land is dominion rather than property, and when covering land occupied by others, is a kingly prerogative rather than a civil right. Thus, under the Roman republic the equality of ownership, originally established, was a feature of the public constitution. But when, through wars with neighboring states or the barbarians, great numbers of slaves were captured And large territories were conquered, or obtained by treaty, the parties to whom the slaves were awarded or sold, asked an extension to their domicile, or to use the common lands. Renting from the state for such purpose became common. At first the state received considerable income from this source: but favoritism, betrayal of the public trust, assumption of ownership by the farmers of this revenue, to the lands for which they had only been employed by the government to receive the rents, connivance of venal officials, and the growing power of the patrician order, developed in time those "large estates " which ruined the citizens and at last destroyed the republic.

Under our "allodial ownership," with all our immense domain, a single century has wrought as wide a departure from equity as six centuries wrought for Italy, and confronts us now with as weighty problems as menaced the Roman people in the century which began our era. To the unreflecting, who have not made a study of this subject, it may appear just that land should be trafficked in, and these will be surprised to learn that such traffic is a comparatively modern usage. We are able to trace land titles among all peoples, to a common ownership, and from which all existing tenures to land have sprung, in every part of the world.

In the growth of monarchical or hierarchal governments, the title to land came first to be controlled by the leader of the tribe. Afterwards, as regal power developed, by a convenient legal fiction, the title vested in the king. All titles in England to day are supposed to be derived from that source. But it is unnecessary to pursue this line of thought further. Those who seek to do so should consult Maine, Laveleye, Mosier, George and others. Our inquiry is mainly to see how exclusive land ownership affects woman socially and industrially.

Since two agents, and only two, are employed in the production of any wealth and both are indispensable, if one is able to reduce either of these agents to a condition of properly, he virtually controls the other. If a human being is made a slave no objection can be made to the ownership by the same party of the land necessary to the slave's proper employment. And owner ship of the land another requires to occupy and cultivate inevitably gives dominion over that other's labor, as complete, as if he were a slave. To have dominion over the homes and lands of others, is not to make things of commerce of them merely, but to give sovereignty over their persons and live as well. A legal title to the space another already occupies gives power far greater than any defending rights of property in the products of industry, a power to invade and forcibly levy tribute, or effect eviction. Woman's relation to this commercial dealing in a "kingly prerogative," is more terribly tragic than that of all other inversions and oppressions she has ever suffered from civil misrule, chattel slavery perhaps excepted.

The home is especially the citadel of woman's power and influence. With this in the legal ownership of another, her sphere is without an orbit, and he becomes the slave and satellite of another: And when that other is not her husband but a penurious landlord whose "right it is to receive rent," when they have only the "duty to pay rent," any danger to fulfill this one sided contract—"unilateral," as Macleod calls it—involves eviction. It is a matter of vulgar belief that only in countries where the feudal system has obtained do people suffer from landlordism, and oppressive rents. But under our commercial ownership of land, more direful consequences result than from entailed estates and the right of primogeniture. For though the descent in family may be broken sometimes, the land invariably passes to those able to pay the monopoly price, and if not to the oldest son then to the wealthiest builder. The question is only one of purse versus pedigree. All the potential dominion of the one has been appropriated by the other, without the responsibilities, so that levying rent is reduced to a matter of business, and eviction the mere conclusion of contract, Foreclosures by the thousand, yearly, in any of the stAtes of the union, evictions by the hundred from a single large estate in Iowa, we already have, not to mention cases of outright and undisguised injustice, like that done to the settlers of Mussell Slough and other localities where scores of families have been dispossessed of houses made on public lands under the guaranty of the government, disregarded and repudiated at the instance, and for the benefit of soulless corporations and corrupt lobbyists. And this state of things is growing no better, but worse, as the inheritance of the whole people is becoming absorbed by a plutocratic class.

But for the laws which sanction the traffic in the homes of women, and in the complemental factor to the worker in every line of industrial protection, the land, evictions would be acts of invasion and violence, which they really are, however sanctioned by statutes made at the bidding and in the interest of a predatory class; the useful cultivator could not be wrenched from the bosom of his mother earth, nor the woman dethroned and banished from the home she had beautified and made comfortable, at suggestions of greed. It has been sought by well-meaning legislators to secure the exemption of the homestead from ordinary involvements of business; but under the rule of commercial ownership of the land it has proved as futile as it is illogical. While land is a matter of traffic, and recognized as a commodity, exchangeable with the products of labor, it is difficult to frame exemption laws, which will prevent it from following the course of other commodities. The error lies in classifying land "the inheritance of all the living," with things which man, through his labor, has created. The land is no product of human labor, invention or discovery. The occupying man only can have use of it. This use can never legitimately deprive another of place or opportunity.

The operation of the private right, now made legal, of taking the earnings of labor, for the privilege of using the forces and elements of Nature, falls with crushing power on woman. Home is her all. To place that in the category of things which may be bought and sold reduces her condition to one of absolute negation. Once in feudal times the lord of the manor could not dispose of his estate without the consent of his vassals. And so our laws generally have required that a wife should join her husband in conveying away (he home or any real estate. But when we consider how many homes have had mortgages foreclosed, we see how little the wife has been benefitted by such requirement. The wife who has confidence in her husband, is easily misled by him when he is crowded by business embarrassments. But if she fully understood the matter, her economic dependence has left her little choice but to obey the desire of her husband.

What is the effect upon the woman of foreclosure, or of eviction from tented premises? Humiliation, dependence, subordination, more toil, less comforts, departure of hope. It is not intended to dwell upon the deprivations not to say demoralization, which follow the breaking up of the ties of the home and family, but merely to trace the consequences which flow from the unnatural sundering of the home attachments, and the discouragements and greater dependence it begets. Moral purity may survive these unnatural circumstances which involve a living martyrdom. But the gross impurity, often referable to inability to obtain comfortable subsistence, may be escaped by the more respectable shift of "marrying for a home and support," with incessant toil, or alternative of a pampered life of idleness and vanity. Sexual purity, lapse from which has such fearful consequences for woman, so far as it has reference to the laws of health, is as much violated in the marrying for convenience, as in the shameless lives of the social outcast. And that form of vice which springs from suppressed emotions, from lack of healthful surroundings, and genial and refining social intercourse, and results in self-abuse, is directly traceable to the unsocial character of our industries, and the deprivation which young people suffer through lack of proper home training, education and diversion.

And the same may be said of intemperance, from which woman, though the less offender, becomes through her dependent situation the greater sufferer. Intemperance arises largely from lack of opportunity for social culture and enjoyment, and the orderly living, which a home broken up cannot secure as a rule the intemperate belong to the idle or to the overworked, to the over-fed or to the under-fed classes. To the industrial system which rewards idleness and robs the labor it brands with dishonor, most of the intemperance of the world can be remotely or directly traced

It may be asked how any change in our system of land ownership can help women? In the same way a child would be helped by the recovery of a lost inheritance, because with freedom and access to the natural elements, all wealth may be acquired by industry and frugality. Deprived of home and place to apply one's labor, not one in one thousand can ever do more than toil through life, to pile up wealth for those who control the land, and limit production and exchange in league with other privileged classes.

"But woman wants no land," we are told. Even Mr. George, after writing "Progress and Poverty," says he himself does not; does not wish to be confined to a particular location, and does not care to work it. But he wants his proportional share of what it yields to other's labor just the same. Now woman's first want is a home, and this must occupy a certain space upon the land. She needs more than this if she follows any useful calling not confined to her own rooms. Next to this want is one to have all the cultivable land free to the toiler who produces food, And articles desired for her consumption personally or in her particular industry, so that the same competition to which she has to submit, may be made to apply in the production and exchange of the goods she requires.

Under a strictly "occupying ownership," not only the woman but the man of business, the workman and the professional man, would share on equal terms, according to useful service, the produce gained by the plodding cultivator from the teeming earth. Freedom and competition, not forceful taxation, would secure to each and all an equitable proportion and just award.

The importance of home to the family integrity has long been felt, and the common law has been amended by statute, so that married women can hold property in their own names; and thoughtful business men in years of success, have largely taken advantage of this change in the laws to have their homes deeded to their wives; and this will be found, during the continuance of commercial land ownership, the most effective method of exemption. What is needed in the interest of the woman and of the worker, is the absolute exemption of all land from traffic, by the recognition of occupancy as the sufficient sole title to land.

In No. 4, I will consider the anomalous condition of woman, as her principal services are related at present to the division and exchange of the wealth produced by social industry.

—J. K. Ingalls, Glenora, Illinois.

  • Joshua King Ingalls, “Woman’s Industrial Subjection.—No. 3.—In Relation to Land Ownership,” The Woman’s Tribune ??, no. ?? (April 20, 1889): 147.