Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Herland, Chapter 9: Our Relations and Theirs (Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman)
What I'm trying to show here is that with these women the
whole relationship of life counted in a glad, eager growing-up to
join the ranks of workers in the line best loved; a deep, tender
reverence for one's own mother--too deep for them to speak
of freely--and beyond that, the whole, free, wide range of
sisterhood, the splendid service of the country, and friendships.
To these women we came, filled with the ideas, convictions,
traditions, of our culture, and undertook to rouse in them the
emotions which--to us--seemed proper.
However much, or little, of true sex-feeling there was between us, it
phrased itself in their minds in terms of friendship, the one purely personal
love they knew, and of ultimate parentage. Visibly we were not mothers,
nor children, nor compatriots; so, if they loved us, we must be friends.
That we should pair off together in our courting days was
natural to them; that we three should remain much together, as
they did themselves, was also natural. We had as yet no work,
so we hung about them in their forest tasks; that was natural, too.
But when we began to talk about each couple having
"homes" of our own, they could not understand it.
"Our work takes us all around the country," explained Celis.
"We cannot live in one place all the time."
"We are together now," urged Alima, looking proudly at
Terry's stalwart nearness. (This was one of the times when they
were "on," though presently "off" again.)
"It's not the same thing at all," he insisted. "A man wants a
home of his own, with his wife and family in it."
"Staying in it? All the time?" asked Ellador. "Not imprisoned,
"Of course not! Living there--naturally," he answered.
"What does she do there--all the time?" Alima demanded.
"What is her work?"
Then Terry patiently explained again that our women did not
"But what do they do--if they have no work?" she persisted.
"They take care of the home--and the children."
"At the same time?" asked Ellador.
"Why yes. The children play about, and the mother has
charge of it all. There are servants, of course."
It seemed so obvious, so natural to Terry, that he always grew
impatient; but the girls were honestly anxious to understand.
"How many children do your women have?" Alima had her
notebook out now, and a rather firm set of lip. Terry began to
"There is no set number, my dear," he explained. "Some have
more, some have less."
"Some have none at all," I put in mischievously.
They pounced on this admission and soon wrung from us the general
fact that those women who had the most children had the least servants,
and those who had the most servants had the least children.
"There!" triumphed Alima. "One or two or no children, and
three or four servants. Now what do those women DO?"
We explained as best we might. We talked of "social duties,"
disingenuously banking on their not interpreting the words as we did;
we talked of hospitality, entertainment, and various "interests."
All the time we knew that to these large-minded women whose whole
mental outlook was so collective, the limitations of a wholly personal
life were inconceivable.
"We cannot really understand it," Ellador concluded. "We
are only half a people. We have our woman-ways and they have
their man-ways and their both-ways. We have worked out a
system of living which is, of course, limited. They must have a
broader, richer, better one. I should like to see it."
"You shall, dearest," I whispered.
"There's nothing to smoke," complained Terry. He was in the
midst of a prolonged quarrel with Alima, and needed a sedative.
"There's nothing to drink. These blessed women have no pleasant
vices. I wish we could get out of here!"
This wish was vain. We were always under a certain degree
of watchfulness. When Terry burst forth to tramp the streets at
night he always found a "Colonel" here or there; and when, on
an occasion of fierce though temporary despair, he had plunged
to the cliff edge with some vague view to escape, he found several
of them close by. We were free--but there was a string to it.
"They've no unpleasant ones, either," Jeff reminded him.
"Wish they had!" Terry persisted. "They've neither the vices
of men, nor the virtues of women--they're neuters!"
"You know better than that. Don't talk nonsense," said I,
I was thinking of Ellador's eyes when they gave me a certain
look, a look she did not at all realize.
Jeff was equally incensed. "I don't know what `virtues of
women' you miss. Seems to me they have all of them."
"They've no modesty," snapped Terry. "No patience, no submissiveness,
none of that natural yielding which is woman's greatest charm."
I shook my head pityingly. "Go and apologize and make
friends again, Terry. You've got a grouch, that's all. These
women have the virtue of humanity, with less of its faults than
any folks I ever saw. As for patience--they'd have pitched us
over the cliffs the first day we lit among 'em, if they hadn't that."
"There are no--distractions," he grumbled. "Nowhere a man
can go and cut loose a bit. It's an everlasting parlor and nursery."
"and workshop," I added. "And school, and office, and laboratory,
and studio, and theater, and--home."
"HOME!" he sneered. "There isn't a home in the whole pitiful place."
"There isn't anything else, and you know it," Jeff retorted
hotly. "I never saw, I never dreamed of, such universal peace and
good will and mutual affection."
"Oh, well, of course, if you like a perpetual Sunday school,
it's all very well. But I like Something Doing. Here it's all done."
There was something to this criticism. The years of pioneering
lay far behind them. Theirs was a civilization in which the
initial difficulties had long since been overcome. The untroubled
peace, the unmeasured plenty, the steady health, the large good
will and smooth management which ordered everything, left
nothing to overcome. It was like a pleasant family in an old
established, perfectly run country place.
I liked it because of my eager and continued interest in the
sociological achievements involved. Jeff liked it as he would have
liked such a family and such a place anywhere.
Terry did not like it because he found nothing to oppose, to
struggle with, to conquer.
"Life is a struggle, has to be," he insisted. "If there is no
struggle, there is no life--that's all."
"You're talking nonsense--masculine nonsense," the peaceful
Jeff replied. He was certainly a warm defender of Herland. "Ants
don't raise their myriads by a struggle, do they? Or the bees?"
"Oh, if you go back to insects--and want to live in an anthill--!
I tell you the higher grades of life are reached only through
struggle--combat. There's no Drama here. Look at their plays!
They make me sick."
He rather had us there. The drama of the country was--to our
taste--rather flat. You see, they lacked the sex motive and, with
it, jealousy. They had no interplay of warring nations, no aristocracy
and its ambitions, no wealth and poverty opposition.
I see I have said little about the economics of the place; it
should have come before, but I'll go on about the drama now.
They had their own kind. There was a most impressive array
of pageantry, of processions, a sort of grand ritual, with their arts
and their religion broadly blended. The very babies joined in it.
To see one of their great annual festivals, with the massed and
marching stateliness of those great mothers, the young women brave
and noble, beautiful and strong; and then the children, taking part
as naturally as ours would frolic round a Christmas tree--it was
overpowering in the impression of joyous, triumphant life.
They had begun at a period when the drama, the dance,
music, religion, and education were all very close together; and
instead of developing them in detached lines, they had kept the
connection. Let me try again to give, if I can, a faint sense of the
difference in the life view--the background and basis on which
their culture rested.
Ellador told me a lot about it. She took me to see the children,
the growing girls, the special teachers. She picked out books for
me to read. She always seemed to understand just what I wanted
to know, and how to give it to me.
While Terry and Alima struck sparks and parted--he always
madly drawn to her and she to him--she must have been, or
she'd never have stood the way he behaved--Ellador and I had
already a deep, restful feeling, as if we'd always had one another.
Jeff and Celis were happy; there was no question of that;
but it didn't seem to me as if they had the good times we did.
Well, here is the Herland child facing life--as Ellador tried
to show it to me. From the first memory, they knew Peace,
Beauty, Order, Safety, Love, Wisdom, Justice, Patience, and Plenty.
By "plenty" I mean that the babies grew up in an environment which
met their needs, just as young fawns might grow up in dewy forest
glades and brook-fed meadows. And they enjoyed it as frankly and
utterly as the fawns would.
They found themselves in a big bright lovely world, full of
the most interesting and enchanting things to learn about and to do.
The people everywhere were friendly and polite. No Herland
child ever met the overbearing rudeness we so commonly show
to children. They were People, too, from the first; the most
precious part of the nation.
In each step of the rich experience of living, they found the
instance they were studying widen out into contact with an endless
range of common interests. The things they learned were RELATED,
from the first; related to one another, and to the national prosperity.
"It was a butterfly that made me a forester," said Ellador.
"I was about eleven years old, and I found a big purple-and-green
butterfly on a low flower. I caught it, very carefully, by the closed
wings, as I had been told to do, and carried it to the nearest insect
teacher"--I made a note there to ask her what on earth an insect
teacher was--"to ask her its name. She took it from me with a
little cry of delight. `Oh, you blessed child,' she said. `Do you like
obernuts?' Of course I liked obernuts, and said so. It is our best
food-nut, you know. `This is a female of the obernut moth,' she
told me. `They are almost gone. We have been trying to exterminate
them for centuries. If you had not caught this one, it might
have laid eggs enough to raise worms enough to destroy thousands
of our nut trees--thousands of bushels of nuts--and make years
and years of trouble for us.'
"Everybody congratulated me. The children all over the
country were told to watch for that moth, if there were any more.
I was shown the history of the creature, and an account of the
damage it used to do and of how long and hard our foremothers
had worked to save that tree for us. I grew a foot, it seemed to
me, and determined then and there to be a forester."
This is but an instance; she showed me many. The big
difference was that whereas our children grow up in private homes
and families, with every effort made to protect and seclude them
from a dangerous world, here they grew up in a wide, friendly
world, and knew it for theirs, from the first.
Their child-literature was a wonderful thing. I could have
spent years following the delicate subtleties, the smooth simplicities
with which they had bent that great art to the service of the child mind.
We have two life cycles: the man's and the woman's. To the man
there is growth, struggle, conquest, the establishment of his family,
and as much further success in gain or ambition as he can achieve.
To the woman, growth, the securing of a husband, the subordinate
activities of family life, and afterward such "social" or charitable
interests as her position allows.
Here was but one cycle, and that a large one.
The child entered upon a broad open field of life, in which
motherhood was the one great personal contribution to the national
life, and all the rest the individual share in their common activities.
Every girl I talked to, at any age above babyhood, had her cheerful
determination as to what she was going to be when she grew up.
What Terry meant by saying they had no "modesty" was that this
great life-view had no shady places; they had a high sense of personal
decorum, but no shame--no knowledge of anything to be ashamed of.
Even their shortcomings and misdeeds in childhood never
were presented to them as sins; merely as errors and misplays--
as in a game. Some of them, who were palpably less agreeable
than others or who had a real weakness or fault, were treated
with cheerful allowance, as a friendly group at whist would treat
a poor player.
Their religion, you see, was maternal; and their ethics, based
on the full perception of evolution, showed the principle of
growth and the beauty of wise culture. They had no theory of
the essential opposition of good and evil; life to them was
growth; their pleasure was in growing, and their duty also.
With this background, with their sublimated mother-love,
expressed in terms of widest social activity, every phase of their
work was modified by its effect on the national growth. The
language itself they had deliberately clarified, simplified, made
easy and beautiful, for the sake of the children.
This seemed to us a wholly incredible thing: first, that any
nation should have the foresight, the strength, and the persistence
to plan and fulfill such a task; and second, that women should have
had so much initiative. We have assumed, as a matter of course,
that women had none; that only the man, with his natural energy
and impatience of restriction, would ever invent anything.
Here we found that the pressure of life upon the environment
develops in the human mind its inventive reactions, regardless of sex;
and further, that a fully awakened motherhood plans and works without limit,
for the good of the child.
That the children might be most nobly born, and reared in an
environment calculated to allow the richest, freest growth, they
had deliberately remodeled and improved the whole state.
I do not mean in the least that they stopped at that, any more
than a child stops at childhood. The most impressive part of their
whole culture beyond this perfect system of child-rearing was
the range of interests and associations open to them all, for life.
But in the field of literature I was most struck, at first, by the
They had the same gradation of simple repetitive verse and story
that we are familiar with, and the most exquisite, imaginative tales;
but where, with us, these are the dribbled remnants of ancient folk
myths and primitive lullabies, theirs were the exquisite work of great
artists; not only simple and unfailing in appeal to the child-mind,
but TRUE, true to the living world about them.
To sit in one of their nurseries for a day was to change one's
views forever as to babyhood. The youngest ones, rosy fatlings
in their mothers' arms, or sleeping lightly in the flower-sweet air,
seemed natural enough, save that they never cried. I never heard a
child cry in Herland, save once or twice at a bad fall; and then people
ran to help, as we would at a scream of agony from a grown person.
Each mother had her year of glory; the time to love and learn,
living closely with her child, nursing it proudly, often for two years
or more. This perhaps was one reason for their wonderful vigor.
But after the baby-year the mother was not so constantly in
attendance, unless, indeed, her work was among the little ones.
She was never far off, however, and her attitude toward the
co-mothers, whose proud child-service was direct and continuous,
was lovely to see.
As for the babies--a group of those naked darlings playing on
short velvet grass, clean-swept; or rugs as soft; or in shallow pools
of bright water; tumbling over with bubbling joyous baby laughter--
it was a view of infant happiness such as I had never dreamed.
The babies were reared in the warmer part of the country, and
gradually acclimated to the cooler heights as they grew older.
Sturdy children of ten and twelve played in the snow as
joyfully as ours do; there were continuous excursions of them,
from one part of the land to another, so that to each child the
whole country might be home.
It was all theirs, waiting for them to learn, to love, to use, to
serve; as our own little boys plan to be "a big soldier," or "a
cowboy," or whatever pleases their fancy; and our little girls plan
for the kind of home they mean to have, or how many children;
these planned, freely and gaily with much happy chattering,
of what they would do for the country when they were grown.
It was the eager happiness of the children and young people
which first made me see the folly of that common notion of ours
--that if life was smooth and happy, people would not enjoy it.
As I studied these youngsters, vigorous, joyous, eager little
creatures, and their voracious appetite for life, it shook my previous
ideas so thoroughly that they have never been re-established.
The steady level of good health gave them all that natural stimulus
we used to call "animal spirits"--an odd contradiction in terms.
They found themselves in an immediate environment which was
agreeable and interesting, and before them stretched the years of
learning and discovery, the fascinating, endless process of education.
As I looked into these methods and compared them with our
own, my strange uncomfortable sense of race-humility grew apace.
Ellador could not understand my astonishment. She explained
things kindly and sweetly, but with some amazement that they needed
explaining, and with sudden questions as to how we did it that left
me meeker than ever.
I betook myself to Somel one day, carefully not taking Ellador.
I did not mind seeming foolish to Somel--she was used to it.
"I want a chapter of explanation," I told her. "You know my
stupidities by heart, and I do not want to show them to Ellador
--she thinks me so wise!"
She smiled delightedly. "It is beautiful to see," she told me,
"this new wonderful love between you. The whole country is interested,
you know--how can we help it!"
I had not thought of that. We say: "All the world loves a lover,"
but to have a couple of million people watching one's courtship--and
that a difficult one--was rather embarrassing.
"Tell me about your theory of education," I said. "Make it
short and easy. And, to show you what puzzles me, I'll tell you
that in our theory great stress is laid on the forced exertion of the
child's mind; we think it is good for him to overcome obstacles."
"Of course it is," she unexpectedly agreed. "All our children
do that--they love to."
That puzzled me again. If they loved to do it, how could it be
"Our theory is this," she went on carefully. "Here is a young
human being. The mind is as natural a thing as the body, a thing
that grows, a thing to use and enjoy. We seek to nourish, to
stimulate, to exercise the mind of a child as we do the body.
There are the two main divisions in education--you have those
of course?--the things it is necessary to know, and the things it
is necessary to do."
"To do? Mental exercises, you mean?"
"Yes. Our general plan is this: In the matter of feeding the
mind, of furnishing information, we use our best powers to meet
the natural appetite of a healthy young brain; not to overfeed it,
to provide such amount and variety of impressions as seem most
welcome to each child. That is the easiest part. The other division
is in arranging a properly graduated series of exercises which
will best develop each mind; the common faculties we all have,
and most carefully, the especial faculties some of us have.
You do this also, do you not?"
"In a way," I said rather lamely. "We have not so subtle and
highly developed a system as you, not approaching it; but tell me more.
As to the information--how do you manage? It appears that all of you
know pretty much everything--is that right?"
This she laughingly disclaimed. "By no means. We are, as you
soon found out, extremely limited in knowledge. I wish you
could realize what a ferment the country is in over the new things
you have told us; the passionate eagerness among thousands of
us to go to your country and learn--learn--learn! But what we
do know is readily divisible into common knowledge and special
knowledge. The common knowledge we have long since learned
to feed into the minds of our little ones with no waste of time
or strength; the special knowledge is open to all, as they desire
it. Some of us specialize in one line only. But most take up several
--some for their regular work, some to grow with."
"To grow with?"
"Yes. When one settles too close in one kind of work there
is a tendency to atrophy in the disused portions of the brain.
We like to keep on learning, always."
"What do you study?"
"As much as we know of the different sciences. We have,
within our limits, a good deal of knowledge of anatomy, physiology,
nutrition--all that pertains to a full and beautiful personal life.
We have our botany and chemistry, and so on--very rudimentary, but
interesting; our own history, with its accumulating psychology."
"You put psychology with history--not with personal life?"
"Of course. It is ours; it is among and between us, and it
changes with the succeeding and improving generations. We are at work,
slowly and carefully, developing our whole people along these lines.
It is glorious work--splendid! To see the thousands of babies improving,
showing stronger clearer minds, sweeter dispositions, higher capacities--
don't you find it so in your country?"
This I evaded flatly. I remembered the cheerless claim that the
human mind was no better than in its earliest period of savagery,
only better informed--a statement I had never believed.
"We try most earnestly for two powers," Somel continued.
"The two that seem to us basically necessary for all noble life:
a clear, far-reaching judgment, and a strong well-used will. We
spend our best efforts, all through childhood and youth, in
developing these faculties, individual judgment and will."
"As part of your system of education, you mean?"
"Exactly. As the most valuable part. With the babies,
as you may have noticed, we first provide an environment which
feeds the mind without tiring it; all manner of simple and interesting
things to do, as soon as they are old enough to do them; physical
properties, of course, come first. But as early as possible, going
very carefully, not to tax the mind, we provide choices, simple choices,
with very obvious causes and consequences. You've noticed the games?"
I had. The children seemed always playing something; or else,
sometimes, engaged in peaceful researches of their own. I had wondered
at first when they went to school, but soon found that they never did--
to their knowledge. It was all education but no schooling.
"We have been working for some sixteen hundred years,
devising better and better games for children," continued Somel.
I sat aghast. "Devising games?" I protested. "Making up new
ones, you mean?"
"Exactly," she answered. "Don't you?"
Then I remembered the kindergarten, and the "material"
devised by Signora Montessori, and guardedly replied: "To some
extent." But most of our games, I told her, were very old--came
down from child to child, along the ages, from the remote past.
"And what is their effect?" she asked. "Do they develop the
faculties you wish to encourage?"
Again I remembered the claims made by the advocates of "sports,"
and again replied guardedly that that was, in part, the theory.
"But do the children LIKE it?" I asked. "Having things made
up and set before them that way? Don't they want the old games?"
"You can see the children," she answered. "Are yours more
Then I thought, as in truth I never had thought before, of the
dull, bored children I had seen, whining; "What can I do now?";
of the little groups and gangs hanging about; of the value of some
one strong spirit who possessed initiative and would "start something";
of the children's parties and the onerous duties of the older people
set to "amuse the children"; also of that troubled ocean of
misdirected activity we call "mischief," the foolish, destructive,
sometimes evil things done by unoccupied children.
"No," said I grimly. "I don't think they are."
The Herland child was born not only into a world carefully prepared,
full of the most fascinating materials and opportunities to learn,
but into the society of plentiful numbers of teachers, teachers born
and trained, whose business it was to accompany the children along that,
to us, impossible thing--the royal road to learning.
There was no mystery in their methods. Being adapted to
children it was at least comprehensible to adults. I spent many
days with the little ones, sometimes with Ellador, sometimes
without, and began to feel a crushing pity for my own childhood,
and for all others that I had known.
The houses and gardens planned for babies had in them nothing
to hurt--no stairs, no corners, no small loose objects to swallow,
no fire--just a babies' paradise. They were taught, as rapidly
as feasible, to use and control their own bodies, and never did I
see such sure-footed, steady-handed, clear-headed little things.
It was a joy to watch a row of toddlers learning to walk, not only
on a level floor, but, a little later, on a sort of rubber rail raised
an inch or two above the soft turf or heavy rugs, and falling off
with shrieks of infant joy, to rush back to the end of the line and
try again. Surely we have noticed how children love to get up on
something and walk along it! But we have never thought to
provide that simple and inexhaustible form of amusement and
physical education for the young.
Water they had, of course, and could swim even before they
walked. If I feared at first the effects of a too intensive system of
culture, that fear was dissipated by seeing the long sunny days
of pure physical merriment and natural sleep in which these
heavenly babies passed their first years. They never knew they
were being educated. They did not dream that in this association
of hilarious experiment and achievement they were laying the
foundation for that close beautiful group feeling into which they
grew so firmly with the years. This was education for citizenship.
Originally published in Forerunner (1915).
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.