Over spring break I re-read a book I haven’t picked up since high school– a lesser-known work by Louisa May Alcott (of Little Women fame) titled An Old-Fashioned Girl. Alcott chronicles the teen years of Polly, a young country girl “come to the city,” and delves into autobiographical territory as she recounts the life of this independent young working woman (a music teacher) in mid-nineteenth century Boston. I would recommend this book to anyone with young daughters– it is quite a fun read that encourages strong family ties and has an Austen-esque ending.
As pertains to this blog, I found a suprising and heartening passage from the viewpoint of Miss Mills, Polly’s boarder, an older unmarried woman who is a shining example of one who provides for orphans, widows, and the poor in a way that many would do well to imitate. Her words of encouragement to young Polly reminded me of the ladies on this blog. I believe all of us “college girls” might find her words compelling.
Sadly, like many young women today, Polly’s friends have failed to see value in anything other than themselves. Alcott holds Polly in a higher sphere, though, since, like herself, she chose to make her own way in the world rather than fill her time with frivolous parties and social occasions as the other unmarried girls do. In this conversation, Polly complains about being ridiculed by the society girls for her simple ways. Here, it is Polly’s high moral character– her empathy and concern for others– that is being snubbed. Polly gripes:
I want to be strong-minded in the real sense of the word, but I don’t like to be called so by people who don’t understand my meaning, and I shall be if I try to make the girls think about anything sensible or philanthropic. They call me old-fashioned now, and I’d rather be thought that, though it isn’t pleasant, than to be set down as a rampant woman’s rights reformer. (174)
Miss Mills responds with sound advice, which I believe this blog has exemplified:
This love and thought and care for those weaker, poorer, or worse than ourselves, which we call Christian charity, is a very old fashion, my dear. It began eighteen hundred years ago, and only those who honestly follow the beautiful example set us then, learn how to get some happiness out of life. I’m not a ‘rampant woman’s rights reformer,’ but I think that women can do a great deal for each other, if they will only stop fearing what ‘people will think,’ and take a hearty interest in whatever is going to fit their sisters and themselves to deserve and enjoy the rights God gave them. There are so many ways that this can be done, that I wonder they don’t see and improve them. I don’t ask you to go and make speeches, only a few have the gift for that, but I do want every girl and woman to feel this duty, and make any little sacrifice of time or feeling that may be asked of them, because there is so much to do, and no one can do it as well as ourselves, if we only think so. (175, emphasis mine)