If we women are to learn the fundamental things in life, we must educate ourselves and one another. For instance, why in this land of great wealth is there great poverty? Any intelligent young woman like those who write to me, eager to help the sightless or any other unfortunate class, can learn why such important work as supplying food, clothing, and shelter is ill-rewarded, why children toil in the mills while thousands of men cannot get work, why women who do nothing have thousands of dollars a year to spend ... There is an economic cause for these things.
It is for the American woman to know why millions
are shut out from the full benefits of such education, art, and science
as the race has thus far achieved ... We must know why 150 of our
sisters were killed in New York in a shirt-waist factory fire the other
day, and nobody to blame ... why our fathers, brothers, and husbands are
killed in mines and railroads.
I am surprised to find that many
champions of woman, upholders of 'advanced ideas,' exalt the
intelligence of the so-called cultivated woman. The woman who works for a
dollar a day has as much right as any other human being to say what the
conditions of her work should be. It is just this, I am sorry to find,
which educated women do not always understand.
ages, man has drilled woman in morals, that she might not deceive him;
he taught her obedience, that she might be his slave. He made her laws,
constituted himself judge, jury, jailer, and executioner. He had entire
charge of her prisons and convents, or her house, her church, and her
person. He burnt her, tortured her, gave her to wild beasts and cast her
forth to be a pariah ... Through all times he granted her the privilege
-- of bearing his children.
A woman opens a can of food which
is adulterated with worthless or dangerous stuff. In a distant city a
man is building himself a palace with the profits of many such cans. If a
petty thief should break into her pantry, and she should fight him
tooth and nail, she would be applauded for her spirit and bravery; but
when a millionaire manufacturer a thousand miles away robs her by the
peaceful methods of commerce, she has nothing to say, because she does
not understand business, and politics is not for her to meddle in.
In the hospital wards where the nurse [works], there are men
unnecessarily laid low by the accidents of trade ... from the
battlefields of industry come the wounded, from the shambles of poverty
come the deformed. What enemy has stricken them? How much of all this
disease and misery is preventable? Shall the wise nurse stand by the bed
of pain and ask no questions about the social causes of ill health?
It has been found that you must feed your child before you can teach
it, and that the poor home defeats the best schoolroom. Behind the free
school we must have a free people. What profits it to provide costly
school buildings for anemic, under-fed children, to pass compulsory
education laws and not secure a livelihood for the families whose
children must obey them? What is the common sense of free text-books
without wholesome food and proper clothing?
Countless mothers of
men have no place fit to be born in, to bear others in, to die in.
Packed in tenements forgot of light, unheeded and slighted, starved of
eye and ear and heart, they wear out their dull existence in monotonous
toil -- all for a crust of bread! They strive and labor, sweat and
produce; they subject their bodies and soul to every risk, lest their
children die for want of food ... [all this] has but served to herd them
in masses under the control of a growing industrial despotism.
Many young women full of devotion and good-will have been engaged in
superficial charities. They have tried to feed the hungry without
knowing the cause of poverty. They have tried to minister to the sick
wihout understanding the cause of disease. They have tried to raise up
fallen sisters without knowing the brutal arm of necessity that struck
them down. We attempt social reforms where we need social
The greatest change is coming that has ever
come in the history of the world. Order is evolving out of the chaos
that followed the breaking up of the old system in which each household
lived after its own manner. By using the physical forces of the universe
men have replaced the slow hand-processes with the swift power of
machines. If women demand it, a fair share of the machine-products will
go to them and their families ... They will no more give their best
years to keep bright and fair the homes of others while their own are
neglected. They will no more consume all their time, strength, and
mental capacity in bringing up the rosy, laughing children of others
while their own sweet children grow up pitiful and stunted.... We know
that there is plenty of room in the world and plenty of raw material in
it for us all to be born right, to be brought up right, to work right,
and to die right.
We shall not see the end of capitalism and the
triumph of democracy until men and women work together in the solving
of their political, social, and economic problems.
[The above is excerpted from two articles written by Helen Keller: "The Modern Woman," Metropolitan Magazine, 1912, and "Why Men Need Women Suffrage," New York Call, 1913.]