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An essay by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Mrs. Blank's Daughters

Title:     Mrs. Blank's Daughters
Author: Thomas Wentworth Higginson [More Titles by Higginson]

Mrs. Blank, of Far West--let us not draw her from the "sacred privacy of woman" by giving the name or place too precisely--has an insurmountable objection to woman's voting. So the newspapers say; and this objection is that she does not wish her daughters to encounter disreputable characters at the polls.

It is a laudable desire, to keep one's daughters from the slightest contact with such persons. But how does Mrs. Blank precisely mean to accomplish this? Will she shut up the maidens in a harem? When they go out, will she send messengers through the streets to bid people hide their faces, as when an Oriental queen is passing? Will she send them travelling on camels, veiled by _yashmaks?_ Will she prohibit them from being so much as seen by a man, except when a physician must be called for their ailments, and Miss Blank puts her arm through a curtain, in order that he may feel her pulse and know no more?

Who is Mrs. Blank, and how does she bring up her daughters? Does she send them to the post-office? If so, they may wait a half-hour at a time for the mail to open, and be elbowed by the most disreputable characters, waiting at their side. If it does the young ladies no harm to encounter this for the sake of getting their letters out, will it harm them to do it in order to get their ballots in? If they go to hear a concert they may be kept half an hour at the door, elbowed by saint and sinner indiscriminately. If they go to Washington to the President's inauguration, they may stand two hours with Mary Magdalen on one side of them and Judas Iscariot on the other. If this contact is rendered harmless by the fact that they are receiving political information, will it hurt them to stay five minutes longer in order to act upon the knowledge they have received?

This is on the supposition that the household of Blank are plain, practical women, unversed in the vanities of the world. If they belong to fashionable circles, how much harder to keep them wholly clear of disreputable contact! Should they, for instance, visit Newport, they may possibly be seen at the Casino, looking very happy as they revolve rapidly in the arms of some very disreputable characters; they will be seen in the surf, attired in the most scanty and clinging drapery, and kindly aided to preserve their balance by the devoted attentions of the same companions. Mrs. Blank, meanwhile, will look complacently on, with the other matrons: they are not supposed to know the current reputation of those whom their daughters meet "in society;" and, so long as there is no actual harm done, why should they care? Very well; but why, then, should they care if they encounter those same disreputable characters when they go to drop a ballot in the ballot-box? It will be a more guarded and distant meeting. It is not usual to dance round-dances at the ward-room, so far as I know, or to bathe in clinging drapery at that rather dry and dusty resort. If such very close intimacies are all right under the gas-light or at the beach, why should there be poison in merely passing near a disreputable character at the City Hall?

On the whole, the prospects of Mrs. Blank are not encouraging. Should she consult a physician for her daughters, he may be secretly or openly disreputable; should she call in a clergyman, he may, though a bishop, have carnal rather than spiritual eyes. If Miss Blank be caught in a shower, she may take refuge under the umbrella of an undesirable acquaintance; should she fall on the ice, the woman who helps to raise her may have sinned. There is not a spot in any known land where a woman can live in absolute seclusion from all contact with evil. Should the Misses Blank even turn Roman Catholics, and take to a convent, their very confessor may not be a genuine saint; and they may be glad to flee for refuge to the busy, buying, selling, dancing, voting world outside.

No: Mrs. Blank's prayers for absolute protection will never be answered, in respect to her daughters. Why not, then, find a better model for prayer in that made by Jesus for his disciples: "I pray Thee, not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil." A woman was made for something nobler in the world, Mrs. Blank, than to be a fragile toy, to be put behind a glass case, and protected from contact. It is not her mission to be hidden away from all life's evil, but bravely to work that the world may be reformed.

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Thomas Wentworth Higginson's essay: Mrs. Blank's Daughters