Chapter 8

  1. Womanhood

It should be the highest ambition of every young woman to possess a true womanhood. Earth presents no higher object of attainment. To be a woman is the truest and best thing beneath the skies. A true woman exists independent of outward adornments. It is not wealth, or beauty of person, or connection, or station, or power of mind, or literary attainments, or variety and richness of outward accomplishments, that make the woman. These often adorn womanhood, as the ivy adorns the oak, but they should never be mistaken for the thing they adorn.

The great error of womankind is that they take the shadow for the substance, the glitter for the gold, the heraldry and trappings of the world for the priceless essence of womanly worth which exists within the mind. Every young man, as a general rule, has some purpose laid down for the grand object of his life—some plan, for the accomplishment of which all his other actions are made to serve as auxiliaries. It is to be regretted that every young woman does not also have a set purpose of life—some grand aim, grand in its character. She should, in the first place, know what she is, what power she possesses, what influences are to go out from her, what position in life she was designed to fill, what duties are resting upon her, what she is capable of being, what fields of profit and pleasure are open to her, how much joy and pleasure she may find in a true life of womanly activity.

When she has duly considered these things, she should then form the high purpose of being a true woman, and make every circumstance bend to her will for the accomplishment of this noble purpose. There can be no higher aim to set before herself. There is no nobler attainment this side of the spirit-land than lofty womanhood. There is no ambition more pure than that which craves this crown for her mortal brow. To be a genuine woman, full of womanly instincts and power, forming the intuitive genius of her penetrative soul, the subduing authority of her gentle yet resolute will, is to be a peer of earth’s highest intelligence. All young women have this noble prize before them. They may all put on the glorious crown of womanhood. They may make their lives grand in womanly virtues.

A true woman has a power, something peculiarly her own, in her moral influence, which, when duly developed, makes her queen over a wide realm of spirit. But this she can possess only as her powers are cultivated. It is cultivated women that wield the scepter of authority among men. Wherever cultivated woman dwells, there is refinement, intellect, moral power, life in its highest form. To be a cultivated woman she must commence early, and make this the grand aim of her life. Whether she work or play, travel or remain at home, converse with friends or study books, gaze at flowers or toil in the kitchen, visit the pleasure party or the sanctuary of God, she keeps this object before her mind, and taxes all her powers for its attainment.

Every young woman should also determine to do something for the honor and elevation of her sex. Her powers of mind and body should be applied to a good end. Let her resolve to help with the weight of her encouragement and counsels her sisters who are striving nobly to be useful, to remove as far as possible the obstacles in their way. Let her call to her aid all the forces of character she can command to enable her to persist in being a woman of the true stamp. In every class of society the young women should awaken to their duty. They have a great work to do. It is not enough that they should be what their mothers were—they must be more. The spirit of the times calls on women for a higher order of character and life. Will they heed the call? Will they emancipate themselves from the fetters of custom and fashion, and come up, a glorious company, to the possession of a vigorous, virtuous, noble womanhood, that shall shed new light upon the world and point the way to a divine life?

Woman’s influence, is the chief anchor of society, and this influence is purifying the world, and the work she has already accomplished will last forever. No costly marble can build a more enduring monument to her memory than the impress she makes on her own household. The changing scenes of life may hurl the genius of man from eminence to utter ruin; for his life hangs on the fabric of public opinion. But the honest form of a true mother reigns queen in the hearts of her children forever.

Man’s admirers may be greater, but woman holds her kindred by a silken cord of familiar kindness, strengthened and extended by each little courtesy of a life-time. Man may make his monument of granite or of marble, woman hers of immortality. Man may enjoy here, she will enjoy hereafter. Man may move the rough crowd by his eloquence, woman will turn his coarseness into a cheerful life. Man may make laws and control legislatures, woman will mold their minds in the school-room and be the author of their grandest achievements. Cruelty she despises, and it lessens at her bidding; purity she admires, and it grows in her presence; music she loves, and her home is full of its melody; happiness is her herald, and she infuses a world with a desire for enjoyment. Without her, cabins would be fit for dwellings, furs fit for clothing, and all the arts and improvements would be wanting in stimulus and ambition; for the world is moved and civilization is advanced by the silent influence of woman.

This influence is due not exclusively to the fascination of her charms, but to the strength, uniformity, and consistency of her virtues, maintained under so many sacrifices and with so much fortitude and heroism. Without these endowments and qualifications, external attractions are nothing; but with them, their power is irresistible. Beauty and virtue are the crowning attributes bestowed by nature upon woman, and the bounty of Heaven more than compensates for the injustice of man. The possession of these advantages secures to her universally that degree of homage and consideration which renders her independent of the effect of unequal and arbitrary laws. But it is not the incense of idol-worship which is most acceptable to the heart of woman; it is the courtesy, and just appreciation of her proper position, merit, and character. Woman surpasses man in the quickness of her perception and in the right direction of her sympathies; and thus it is justly due to her praise that the credit of her acknowledged ascendency is personal amidst the increasing degeneracy of man.

Woman is the conservator of morality and religion. Her moral worth holds man in some restraint, and preserves his ways from becoming inhumanly corrupt. Mighty is the power of woman in this respect. Every virtue in woman has its influence on the world. A brother, husband, friend, or son is touched by its sunshine. Its mild beneficence is not lost. A virtuous woman in the seclusion of her home, breathing the sweet influence of virtue into the hearts and lives of its loved ones, is an evangel of goodness to the world. She is a pillar of the external kingdom of right. She is a star, shining in the moral firmament. She is a priestess, administering at the fountain of life. Every prayer she breathes is answered, in a greater or less degree, in the hearts and lives of those she loves. Her heart is an altar-fire, where religion acquires strength to go out on its mission of mercy.

We can not overestimate the strength and power of woman’s moral and religious character. The world would go to ruin without her. With all our ministers and Churches, and Bibles and sermons, man would be a prodigal without the restraint of woman’s virtue and the consecration of her religion. Woman first lays her hand on our young faces; she plants the first seeds; she makes the first impressions; and all along through life she scatters the good seeds of her kindness, and sprinkles them with the dews of her piety.

A woman of true intelligence is a, blessing at home, in her circle of friends, and in society. Wherever she goes she carries with her a health-giving influence. There is a beautiful harmony about her character that at once inspires a respect which soon warms into love. The influence of such a woman upon society is of the most salutary kind. She strengthens right principles in the virtuous, incites the selfish and indifferent to good actions, and gives to the light and frivolous a taste after something more substantial than the frothy gossip with which they seek to recreate themselves.

Many a woman does the work of her life without being noticed or seen by the world. The world sees a family reared to virtue, one child after another growing into Christian manhood or womanhood, and at last it sees them gathered around the grave where the mother that bore them rests from her labors. But the world has never seen the quiet woman laboring for her children, making their clothes, providing them food, teaching them their prayers, and making their homes comfortable and happy.

A woman’s happiness flows to her from sources and through channels different from those that give origin and conduct to the happiness of man, and in a measure will continue to do so forever. Her faculties bend their exercise toward different issues, her social and spiritual notions demand a different aliment. Her powers are eminently practical. She has a rich store of practical good sense, an ample fund of tact, skill, shrewdness, inventiveness, and management. It is her work to form the young mind, to give it direction and instruction, to develop its love for the good and true. It is her work to make home happy, to nourish all the virtues, and instill all the sweetness which builds men up into good citizens. She is the consoler of the world, attending it in sickness; her society soothes the world after its toils, and rewards it for its perplexities. They receive the infant when it enters upon its existence, and drape the cold form of the aged when life is passed. They assuage the sorrows of childhood, and minister to the poor and distressed.

Loveliness of spirit is woman’s scepter and sword; for it is both the emblem and the instrument of her conquest. Her influence flows from her sensibilities, her gentleness, and her tenderness. It is this which disarms prejudice, and awakens confidence and affection in all who come within her sphere, which makes her more powerful to accomplish what her will has resolved than if nature had endowed her with the strength of a giant. As a wife and mother, woman is seen in her most sacred and dignified aspect. As such she has great influence over the characters of individuals, over the condition of families, and over the destinies of empires.

How transitory are the days of girlhood! The time when the cheerful smile, the merry laugh, and the exulting voice were so many expressions of happiness,—how quickly it passed! How time has multiplied its scores, and accumulated its unwelcome effects against the charms and attractions of youth! But if the heart be chilled, if the cheek be more pale, and the eye less bright; if the outward adornment of the temple of love have become faded and dimmed, there may be yet inwardly preserved the shrine where is laid up the sacred treasures of loveliness and purity, gentleness and grace, the attempered qualities of tried and perfected virtues: as if the blossoms of early childhood had ripened into the mellow and precious fruits of autumnal time.

But in another and better sense a good woman never grows old. Years may pass over her head, but if benevolence and virtue dwell in her heart she is as cheerful as when the spring of life first opened to her view. When we look at a good woman we never think of her age; she looks as happy as when the rose first bloomed on her cheek. In her neighborhood she is a friend and benefactor; in the Church, the devout worshiper and exemplary Christian. Who does not love and respect the woman who has, spent her days in acts of kindness and mercy, who has been the friend of sorrowing ones, whose life has been a scene of kindness and love, devotion to truth and religion. Such a woman can not grow old; she will always be fresh and beautiful in her spirits and active in her humble deeds of mercy and benevolence.

If the young lady desires to retain the bloom and beauty of youth, let her not yield to the way of fashion and folly; let her love truth and virtue; and to the close of her life will she retain those feelings which now make life appear a garden of sweets ever fresh and green.

, In, pager

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