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An essay by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Vicarious Honors

Title:     Vicarious Honors
Author: Thomas Wentworth Higginson [More Titles by Higginson]

There is a story in circulation--possibly without authority--to the effect that a certain young lady has ascended so many Alps that she would have been chosen a member of the English Alpine Club but for her misfortune in respect to sex. As a matter of personal recognition, however, and, as it were, of approximate courtesy, her dog, who has accompanied her in all her trips, and is not debased by sex, has been elected into the club. She has therefore an opportunity for exercising in behalf of her dog that beautiful self-abnegation which is said to be a part of woman's nature, impelling her always to prefer that her laurels should be worn by somebody else.

The dog probably made no objection to these vicarious honors; nor is any objection made by the young gentlemen who reply eloquently to the toast, "The Ladies," at public dinners, or who kindly consent to be educated at masculine colleges on "scholarships" perhaps founded by women. Those who receive the emoluments of these funds must reflect within themselves, occasionally, how grand a thing is this power of substitution given to women, and how pleasant are its occasional results to the substitute. It is doubtless more blessed to give than to receive, but to receive without giving has also its pleasures. Very likely the holder of the scholarship, and the orator who rises with his hand on his heart to "reply in behalf of the ladies," may do their appointed work well; and so did the Alpine dog. Yet, after all, but for the work done by his mistress, the dog would have won no more honor from the Alpine Club than if he had been a chamois.

Nothing since Artemus Ward and his wife's relations has been finer than the generous way in which fathers and brothers disclaim all desire for profits or honors on the part of their feminine relatives. In a certain system of schools once known to me, the boys had prizes of money on certain occasions, but the successful girls at those times received simply a testimonial of honor for each; "the committee being convinced," it was said, "that this was more consonant with the true delicacy and generosity of woman's nature." So in the new arrangements for opening the University of Copenhagen to young women, Karl Blind writes to the New York "Evening Post," that it is expressly provided that they shall not "share in the academic benefices and stipends which have been set apart for male students." Half of these charities may, for aught that appears, have been established originally by women, like the American scholarships already mentioned. Women, however, can avail themselves of them only by deputy, as the Alp-climbing young lady is represented by her dog.

It is all a beautiful tribute to the disinterestedness of woman. The only pity is that this virtue, so much admired, should not be reciprocated by showing the like disinterestedness toward her. It does not appear that the butchers and bakers of Copenhagen propose to reduce in the case of women students "the benefices and stipends" which are to be paid for daily food. Young ladies at the university are only prohibited from receiving money, not from needing it. Nor will any of the necessary fatigues of Alpine climbing be relaxed for any young lady because she is a woman. The fatigues will remain in full force, though the laurels be denied. The mountain-passes will make small account of the "tenderness and delicacy of her sex." When the toil is over she will be regarded as too delicate to be thanked for it; but, by way of compensation, the Alpine Club will allow her to be represented by her dog.

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Thomas Wentworth Higginson's essay: Vicarious Honors