Saturday, May 17, 2008
The Forerunner (1:1): "Personal Problems" (Advice, Charlotte Perkins Gilman)
A passionate interest is shown by many persons in consulting anonymous
advisers through the columns of various publications. Their inquiries
are mainly as to small matters of etiquette, and the care of the
In one of the current women's papers we find such questions as these:
"When one is introduced, how does one acknowledge the introduction?
Must it be by a mention of the weather? How should one receive a small
gift?" (x) All these by one breathless inquirer.
Another asks pathetically: "Will you tell me how soon after a husband's
death it is permitted to a widow to return formal calls? What is the
present form of visiting cards for a widow?" (y)
Another rudderless ship, in a somewhat less recent issue of a very
popular woman's paper, writes: "I am wearing mourning. In the hot
weather I find the veil very heavy and close, and wish to throw it back.
What shall I do?" (z)
These are apparently bona fide questions, but in most cases they are
answered in a style too palpably oracular. If the questioners are
genuine and want help they get precious little. If it is merely a game,
it seems rather a flat one. But the popularity of the pastime
The Forerunner will give no answers to foolish questions; unless at
peril of the asker. But to sincere inquirers, who are interested in
some moot point of conduct, some balance of conflicting duties, honest
attention will be given, and their questions answered as sincerely.
The intention is to promote discussion of the real problems of life, and
to apply to them the new standards afforded by the larger knowledge and
deeper religious sense of to-day.
If any of the above questions were sent to this office they would be
(x) Read "How To Do It," by E. E. Hale. Learn to be sincere; have real
feelings and express them honestly.
(y) If you are truly prostrated by grief you cannot return calls. If
you are able--and like to do it--what are you afraid of? Whose
"permission" are you asking? See answer to x.
(z) Mourning is a relic of barbarism, kept up by women because of their
retarded social development. But if you must wear a heavy veil and wish
to throw it back--why don't you?
These persons would be displeased and not write again. Truly. Such
questions are not wanted by The Forerunner. They would discontinue
their subscription. Doubtless. But this is a waste of anxiety, for
such would never have subscribed for The Forerunner in the first place.
Suppose, however, that a question like this is sent in:
"I am a girl of twenty. My mother is an invalid. My father is in
business difficulties. They want me to marry an old friend of
father's--a good man, but forty years older then I am. Is it my duty to
marry him--for their sake?" (B)
Answer. (B) Marriage is not an institution for the support of parents,
or the settling of business difficulties. If you loved that old man you
would not be asking advice. To marry a man you do not love is immoral.
Marriage is to serve the best interests of children and to give
happiness to the contracting parties. If your parents need your
financial aid go to work and give them your earnings, but do not make a
business of matrimony.
Or again: Query. "My mother is a widow living on a moderate income.
She has two married children, but does not like to live with them. I am
a college graduate and wish to work at a profession. She says it is not
necessary for me to work, and wants me to live with her--says she needs
me, claims my filial duty. Is this right?" (F)
Answer. (F) No, it is dead wrong. Parental duty is a natural
obligation--not a loan. Filial duty is the same from son and daughter.
You owe your mother care and service if needed, just as your brother
would. She has no more right to prevent your going to work than if you
were a son. By all means live with her if you both like it, but live
your own life. You have a duty of citizenship as well as of
Or again: Query. "My wife is spending more of my income on dress than I
can afford. How can I stop her?" (G)
There is not room to answer this in this issue.
Originally published in Forerunner: 1:1 (November 1909).
Etext from Project Gutenberg.
This public domain text has been presented as found (with some minor format changes); this website and its owners are not responsible for errors, substantive and/or minor.