Wilson, Emilia Serrano, baronesa de, 1843-1922, América y sus mujeres (Barcelona (Espana): Fidel Giro, )
Tremendous torrent, for an instant hushThe terrors of thy voice, and cast asideThose wide involving shadows, that my eyesMay see the fearful beauty of thy face!
W. C. BRYANT1
(Torrente prodigioso, calma, callaTu trueno aterrador; disipa un tantoLas tinieblas que en torno te circundanDéjame contemplar tu faz serena.)
All are but parts of one stupendous whole.
(Todo pertenece a un todo admirable.)
The wreath, my life, the wreath shall beThe tie to bind my soul to thee.(La guirnalda vida mía,La guirnalda será el lazo que me una a ti.)
I made my journey to the United States in October 1886. At the Buena Vista station, I occupied one of the spacious Pullman cars, the non plus ultra of train comfort, choosing a small, private dressing-bedroom, which had a door leading to the general grand saloon, luxuriously decorated in velvet and artistic woodwork. After the second car, toward the front, was a wide dining hall, with tables set for lunch, absolutely identical to a Parisian restaurant. We passed through the feared Tajo de Nochistongo, south of Toluca, at night. The torrential rains had disrupted the line and the train had to stop in Celava, where we remained for a day; it did not bother me, since I visited the beautiful Church of Our Lady of Carmen and the wool textile factory. Later, we continued our trip to Guanajuato, a city of 58,000 inhabitants, very important, due to its minerals, as well as the feracity of its countryside. The fertile plains and cheerful states quickly disappeared, and it was dawn when a strong
I waited for some hours to take the train in El Paso, Texas, a city which, of course, demonstrates the activity, the spirit of innovation that distinguishes the sons of the great Republic. There is no example of progress as surprising as that country. Texas has made itself in a very short time: with great commerce, with good hotels, with lovely houses, and with the life and movement of a great population; and although Mexico presents its own, characteristic specialties, there is, upon entering into the United States, an infinitely large contrast with other Latin American regions. There, a few steps from Mexico, a city bustles, stirs, thinks and works at all hours, exceptional in every way, and which, due to industry, due to commercial development, due to thirst for innovation, due to the constant effort to accumulate riches and overcome all nations in grandeur, has achieved its purpose. And let us not believe what is said and repeated in Europe: that the US American  people lack generous sentiments and are not concerned with anything other than earnings and gold; no. The numerous shelters of all types founded by fabulous donations and sustained by philanthropic protectors, the numerous establishments where the poor find daily food, and the frank protection that the
The 54 hours between Texas and Kansas pass with extraordinary speed in Pullman Sleepers (dormitories) and with the all the splendor imagined. Kansas is a very beautiful and commercial city, but when the locomotive whistles through the Quincy fields and crosses through the immense grain fields like thunder, leaving behind valuable estates on the right and the left, and it nears Chicago, capital of Illinois, then one can imagine the proximity of a great center: as if it had half a million inhabitants. It is interesting to note that in 1833, there was nothing there but a fort. Today, on the tempestuous Lake Michigan, sits an enterprising city, a rich breadbasket of indescribable commercial activity. The lake measures 22,403 square miles and is 1,000 feet deep and is connected by a strait to Lake Huron, which sends its waters to Erie, another marvel, populated by beautiful historic memories, and where Nature formed advantageous ports that serve as shipyards. Its drainage into the famous, Lake Ontario, is the source of the famous Niagara Falls. I will mention Lake Superior in passing, a complement to the five most beautiful lakes in the world, which lends its volume to the Saint Lawrence River; those fresh water seas experience terrible storms and horrific hurricanes.
It was natural that I, as a tourist with aspirations of being a historian, would visit sumptuous factories and shops and colossal offices, the city hall, the curious and grand Palmer hotel, the theaters, the neighboring Pullman city and the garages where the wagons with that name were built.
That is where I went a few days later; but it was impossible to pass through Buffalo without stopping at Niagara Falls, even if it was only for 24 hours. This is what I thought and abandoning the train, I immediately left on another; my impatience was such that the trip seemed extremely long. When I arrived, I went to a hotel, ate, asked for an open carriage, because the day was unsurpassable, and told the driver to take me to Niagara on the Canadian side. I have never seen anything that looked like the whirlpools called small rapids, nor is it possible for there to be anything that could produce that indescribable clamor of the titanic surge that rears up, jumps, crashes, and feebly fights against Goat Island, the promontory that has endured the attacks of the angry element for centuries. What amazement, what a wonder of Nature, what a spectacle is produced by the great Horseshoe waterfall, and the cascade that looks like a wedding veil, and that secular Rock of the Ages, and the Cave of the Winds: everything is marvelous, powerful, and only Heredia’s pen could describe it.
The suspension bridge is a work that is in agreement with everything, to produce an unrivaled effect: the three islands named Three Sisters Islands and the very dangerous and infernally turbulent grand rapids have interesting histories and painful lore. There, at the edge of an abyss, they signal the place where a young woman fell off a cliff; her beau jumped, either to save her or die with her; the latter occurred. Neither youth, nor beauty, nor love found mercy in the implacable waves, which dragged the two of them into its deep, unknown abyss.
What fantastic surf breakers! What a fight is put up by those powerful torrents, which precipitate in disorderly and capricious undulations, in streams of foam that break against the rocks and continue their vertiginous race, searching for the deep bed, and, launching into it, renew, multiply with foolish confusion, and carry their contested abundance until being confused with the waters of the ocean!
Manhattan Island, where the opulent City of Hills– the primitive name that New York once held– extends today, was discovered by the Florentine, Giovanni Verrazzano, in 1514, but Henrick Hudson,  captain of the ship Half Moon, founded New Amsterdam in 1609. It is firmly maintained that Hudson and his companions showed the Indians the hide of a young bull, requesting a plot of land of that size. The Indians were drunk from having over-celebrated the ship’s arrival and they ceded, celebrating the English Captain’s astuteness, who, having cut the bull hide into very thin strips, took possession of the vast terrain that they measured. It was then that the island was given the name of Manhattan, place or location of drunkenness. The director of the Dutch Company, which Hudson served, bought it in 1626, for the sum of 60 guilders, that is, for less than 125 pesetas. The first houses were constructed on Bowling Green in 1614. The city was later named New York, after the Duke of York, because in 1674, the Dutch ceded the then-insignificant island– which was bordered to the north by Harlem River, to the west by the Hudson or North River, and to the east by the river by that name, which cuts off New York from Brooklyn– to the English. The bay is majestic and very long, though its waters are neither beautiful nor crystal-clear, due to the rivers that mix there, the filth spewed out by the city, and the factories that occupy the banks of the bay; it has a circumference of 59 miles and the biggest ships with the largest drafts anchor there. Manhattan Island has an area of 22 square miles; its length from north to south is 13.5 miles and its width from east to west is 3. The island had 1,000 inhabitants in 1656 and has 1,070,000 now, not including Brooklyn, which has 400,000.
And we would pass whole days strolling through the streets, which we divided in districts to take advantage of the infinite train ways, which go everywhere and on which a lady is sure that she will not have to tolerate the smell of tobacco. All of them have signs that read, No smoking here, Much can be said about the US Americans, but one must concede them supremacy regarding the respect for laws and women. The presence of a woman on a train way is enough to provoke the extinguishing of a cigarette, if any are lit, and match books are hidden in the deepest pockets.
On Christmas night, I went with Anita to visit a Spanish church, decorated with simplicity and elegance; afterward, we continued to the Saint Patrick Cathedral, without fearing the glacial cold, in an open coach, each wrapped in furs from head to toe. It had snowed in the afternoon, but the night was serene and the moon was clear and beautiful, it shone like a lantern in the indigo immensity. The doors of shops, churches, and houses were adorned with foliage and cedar garlands; whimsical objects for gifts stood out in shop windows and in some of them we read, I wish you a Happy Christmas, which means, Deseo a usted felices Pascuas; others repeated the words, Happy New Year. We also saw thousands of trinkets for the children, presents that Santa Claus, or Saint Nicolas, gives them, and the significant Christmas tree.
The Catholic cathedral, contemplated in the moonlight, was quite fantastic, because it is a white, transparent marble, on granite bases, and is purely gothic: it has a marked resemblance to the Amiens Cathedral or that of Colombia and, as a whole, to Paris’ Notre Dame. It measures 332 feet in length by 174 in width in the center and is 108 tall.
The Protestant church, Trinity, is also of a handsome ogival style: it is very large and beautiful, with a lovely tower and extremely tall steeple. Grace Church is located on New York’s most central and busiest street, Broadway; it is made of white marble and is in the form of an old basilica, with very lovely, multicolored windows. Saint George is an Episcopal temple and one of the most sumptuous: it boasts a Byzantine style and occupies a large space. There are 300 churches in the US American capital, 39 of which are Roman Catholic and the others are reformed, Protestant, Jewish, Lutheran, Unitarian, and other sects. There are many good, happy, healthy, and perfectly-organized charity homes in spacious buildings. One morning, I went with Anita to visit a Protestant hospice. I have always felt immense pity and more than pity, sorrow, while walking through that type of establishment; for the first time, this didn’t happen. The affectionate and amiable sisters showed us the large living and sleeping halls: lovely little beds with very white drapes; careful women, tidy and well-dressed. The great care evident in all the details delighted, seduced, distancing all somber ideas, all harrowing thoughts. I left with a happy heart and praising charity practiced in that manner.
There are three Blackwell’s Island charity houses and they occupy a building set aside for the magnificent penitentiary and the Alms and Bellevue. hospitals. There are 38 or 40 shelter-homes and hospitals for the elderly, blind, abandoned blacks, Catholic orphans, vagabond children, Protestant orphans, and another for colored people, for needy or incorrigible youth, for children who sell newspapers, for the repentant, the Midnight Mission, the refuge for boys and girls, the institute for deaf-mutes, and others of debatable use. Infinite societies of ladies, copious donations, alms from everyone, sustain many of the establishments.
My inseparable Anita and I went to pass the day in Central Park, which, by the way, was delightful. Twelve doors serve as entrances to the sumptuous promenade, and leafy and pleasant avenues are artistically combined
One of the grandest structures is High Bridge, the bridge over Harlem River, the passageway for waters from the Croton aqueduct that supply the city; the bridge cost 900,000 duros. Despite how many times I had read exact descriptions of the Brooklyn Bridge, I had not imagined how colossal that marvel was, which reaches up to 6,000 feet in length, 85 in width, and 135 in height. The towers that sustain it stand in the Easter River at a great depth and support it with thick steel cables; stone arches and iron columns are the supports for the bridge’s stretch. It has cost 15 million duros; but it is a grandiose work and unique in its
Like London or Paris, it is not easy to give a detailed description of the culmination of the American metropolis; there, methods of transportation have been simplified in order to visit everything: the tramways, the railroads, the carriages, the elevator to avoid the bother of stairs, and lastly, the elevated line, the most audacious and extraordinary idea, and of a perfect combination, to avoid disasters. The railroad is a little higher than the first floor of a house, and traverses a large part of the city: it is comfortable and original. It would take up too much space to mention all the schools, colleges, institutes, drawing and music galleries, for study and teaching; but I will say that there are some for blacks and whites, for Protestants and Catholics. The State supports 232 and many are directed by primary education professors. There are two normal schools and one exemplary school. Academies; the University founded in 1831, sumptuous building; the College of Medicine; free schools; and night schools; and in sum, everything that can promote intellectual development.
I spent many days visiting libraries. Astor’s,  to which he gave 400,000 duros to found, is unbeatable and very rich– what wealth for memory and for entertainment! I think it can not be rivaled. The section of Spanish books is much better than any I have seen; but they are old, rather than contemporary. The halls are very spacious and one can find extremely rare copies and manuscripts from the most primitive times there. The Lenox and Mercantile Libraries are very notable. I engulfed myself in those treasures of science, history, and literature for many hours and days, which went by in the blink of an eye. The Post Office, constructed of stone and iron, deals with the movement produced by over 300,000 letters a day, from the Republic alone, and around 35,000 foreign ones, which arrive and leave. 300 mailmen distribute in the capital, and there are 1,300 employees for the numerous offices.
Wall Street, which is now the brain of commerce, was one of the city’s first streets; the Treasury is located there: I stop for an instant in front of the Doric building. What sumptuous construction! In the United States, nothing that is not colossal is understood: it appears that they wanted to copy the famous Parthenon in Athens. Massachusetts marble has not run out to build it; it can be judged by its cost, 1,200,000 dollars or duros. It keeps an immortal memory on its grounds: that of Washington’s oath, upon taking possession of the presidency of the Republic in April 1789. The independence, which he achieved, had been proclaimed in the Hall, and amidst the acclamations, he took an oath before Chancellor Livingston. I have seen the act reproduced in a beautiful painting. Washington was dressed in black velvet, with silk stockings and shoes with silver buckles. The powdered wig, the braid of the last third of the 17th century, and the dagger, completed the outfit. Of course, according to the time period’s chronicles, the crowd was immense and gathered at the Federal Hall applauding the warrior. Savings banks and banks can be found in profusion on Wall Street, the oldest is New York Bank, insurance and fire-prevention companies, gas and telegraph companies, which are infinite. And hotels? It is important to note that they are the most splendid in the universe; 1,500 people can stay at the Grand Central Hotel, and comfortably, at that. Its height of eight floors would scare anyone who did not know that elevators existed. Hoffmann is also made of white marble and very elegant; the Fifth Avenue hotel occupies one of the best sites in the city, everything in it is a dazzling luxury: the rooms, the furniture, the dinning rooms; the same goes for the Victoria and the Windsor.
While in Brooklyn, it occurred to me to visit another city full of secrets and mysteries, of abnegations and martyrs, of virtues, of glories, and of heroes; of ignored love, of bitter suffering, and who knows how many deceptions, so many sacrifices that hide in its heart! Regarding space and public squares, streets, gardens, artistic creations, and costly buildings, there is nothing to envy, but those splendors are sad, lugubrious, silent; there is neither life nor movement in the opulent city: everything is melancholy, even though the eloquence of its silence and loneliness is
Let us return to the city of the living and enter into another order of ideas, very distinct and more flattering. Among my New York friends, I counted a German doctor, a man of vast education and well-versed, not only in the sciences, but also in history and letters. He accompanied me on the visit I made to the Herald, located on Broadway– the city’s most central and commercial street– and one of portentous movement of carriages and tramways, in addition to being crowded by people on foot. The Herald building is a monument, a white marble palace that has cost a mere three million dollars3 Its owner and editor, Mr. Gordon Bennet, paid 450,000 for the premises, and remember that the entire island was purchased by the Dutch for 25. When Hudson, who gave his name to the river, disembarked on the beach, it was not populated, except by an indigenous tribe of 40 or 50 people. If it were possible for him to return to life, what wonder he would feel! The press is the great Republic’s most important motor, and the Herald, The Times, The World, The Tribune, The Sun and others are of immense circulation. Relatively speaking, there are not many newspapers, but they produce beautiful series, and counting on the numerous weeklies and biweeklies, literary, style, science, industry, and weekly editions of the large newspapers at very extremely reduced prices, they form a considerable total.
“One of the powerful impulses for the press is woman,” the German doctor told me as we left the Worldpress, “she founds newspapers, runs them, and writes for them since the beginning of last century. On the other hand, it comes naturally because, and I am not sure if I commit an error, but I think that one of the first world newspapers created in 1702 in London by a woman, Elizabeth Mallet, and the first in America was the Massachusetts Gazette and News Letter, which was continued, after the death of its founder, by his widow, Margaret Craper.”
She worked on its composition with her two daughters and the servants did the printing work; she was thought to be so correct and wise that she was named the colony’s printer. In the following year, Elizabeth Timothy founded a newspaper in South Carolina and her sister, Ann, was the State’s printer for 16 years. Also, in the year 1773, there was a newspaper that achieved much fame because it opposed the Stamp Act; Mary Crouch was its director. With independent ideas arose others with female editors, who made crude war against the colonial system.”
“That’s quite a different matter. You see,” he said in that moment, pointing to a young and properly-dressed man, carrying a boy in his arms. “You see: the husband carries the child and the woman is behind, looking in the shop windows; this is very telling. The US American woman, with a few exceptions, gives orders, exerts true dominion. In addition, she has great liberty of action, which would clash in Latin American countries.”
“Here,” I said, “the woman enjoys great prerogatives and delights in them to expand her future. In commerce, in offices, in the press, in universities– she has access and finds respect and consideration in all places.”
At this point, we arrived at Lenox House,, located on the aristocratic Fifth Avenue; that is where I lived, in an elegant French house of said name; there was a school in front: it was precisely the end of the school day.
“Look, doctor,” I said, “at how many six-, seven-, eight-, and nine-year-old little girls walk out alone; each walks her own way and it is admirable that nothing happens to them. All the passers-by watch after them, and I have observed that many times, they hold their hands as they cross the street to avoid the danger posed by carriages; this is kindheartedness and good-will.”
I did not wish to deepen the issue, and I reserved my impressions. In the past, as much as in the present, the literary annals of US America have had countless great female writers, poets, and novelists, and they have the distinctive feature of being naturalists and reformers, rather than idealists, ever since the last century and the beginning of this one. Sarah Josepha Buell, that is, Mistress Hale, who was born in 1790, published a book during the first third of the century about woman’s rights, which put forth very advanced ideas. Miss Sedgwick’s were no less so; she was a contemporary of the latter, a historian and novelist, on a par with Fenimore Cooper, since she was an excellent illustrator of national customs; she was still alive at the beginning of 1867. Similar to our illustrious Concepción Arenal,  the US Americans have Eliza W. Farnham, a philanthropic, learned woman, who was the director of the woman’s prison ward, introducing useful and charitable penal reforms; she was in charge of the institute for the blind in Boston, and studied Medicine for the benefit of her sex. The vigorous imagination and profound studies of Miss Ellet  have produced works of such powerful spirit as The Woman of the American Revolution, Domestic History of the American Revolution, Pioneer Women of the West, and various wide-ranged books.
Even more significant was the success obtained by the famous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Mistress Stowe Beecher, who passed away not long ago. That book is immortal because it lit the fuse for the destruction of slavery. What pages! Humanity owes eternal gratitude to the illustrious daughter of the State of Connecticut, where she was born in 1814. The Woman’s Medical College, established in New York in 1856 owes its creation to Elizabeth Blackwell; educated in that science through private lessons, which she obtained by great professors, she demonstrated through example that the talented woman could aspire to follow scientific careers and that this, in turn, benefited her sex. I bless those countries that are at such a high level and distance themselves from outdated concerns! Not long ago, a school was created in New York for the study of law, dedicated to women.
There has been no lack of patriotic women in US America; take for example
who, after her husband died, continued serving as a gunner during the Battle
of Monmouth. Washington’s mother was a woman of notable character
She was organized, active, and energetic; she watched over everything in the domestic sphere, and crossed the fields giving orders. When Washington, triumphant, presented himself before his mother, without accompaniment or pomp, she embraced him, and during the conversation, did not make a single allusion to his glory, but rather, to memories of his childhood. He never became vain; he never displayed signs of pride, and his simplicity was twice attractive as strict formality. Upon informing her that he had been named president of the Republic, she exclaimed:
“You will not see me again. My advanced age and the illness that afflicts me announce a near end. But go, my dear George, go and fulfill the high purpose that God seems to have called you to; that the grace of heaven may never abandon you; I give you my blessing.”
The hero cried, supporting the noble old woman with his shoulder. Shortly afterward, she passed away. I have seen the portrait of Washington, with that of his mother and that of his wife, Martha Custis who was very beautiful and endowed with extreme prudence; of a reserved and honorable character, as well as affectionate and frank. The soldiers called her the Lady, because she was the model wife, who endured the most difficult winters in the camps and was the angel of charity for the soldier; a worthy companion for the US American commander.
I had a neighbor in New York, whom I observed more than once from my balconies, hidden behind the window shades: Thomas Alva Edison. How many times I saw him enter and leave and even conduct electrical experiments! I had and have a positive admiration for that apostle of science and work, American aristocracy: in the 13th and 14th centuries, they would have burned Edison as a sorcerer; at least some like him went into the bonfire. Edison, who had an unhappy and very needy childhood, is today a potentate and no one would recognize him as having been the
small child who sold candy and newspapers. At that time, he already felt the febrile appetite to invent, create, and rise to the summit of fame; he did not know how, but he was sure of climbing it, and he did climb it. Who does not know Edison? In whom does the great inventor not inspire amazement?
At that time, there was a Mexican guest in Lenox House; an exalted, illustrious, and wise patriot of great merits and clean history. Don Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada. I had contact with him there, although very little, because he lived isolated with his books and enveloped in his studies. He passed away not long afterward, and his homeland gave him an honorable tomb after great, prodigious honors were paid to his body.
It was snowing when I left New York for Washington, and the capital of the United States also received me with a carpet of immaculate whiteness; but the sun shone on the following day, and I began to traverse the pretty city very early. There is not the same amount of movement here as in New York; it is more serious and more aristocratic. The seat of the government is located there and it is the residence of the diplomatic corps. My friend of many years, Juan Valera, the author of Pepita Jiménez, which was being translated into English at that time, worked there as minister of Spain. With fine courtesy, the minister of Mexico had put me up in his house; he was one of the longest-standing diplomats and a man who has been of great service to his homeland. I saw the city with his wife, an erudite, friendly, and beautiful US American woman. There are magnificent, new, elegant, and varied houses on Pennsylvania Avenue. I made the most of those two days: I saw the White House;4 the sumptuous Capitol, which houses lovely paintings and has a proud cupola; the House and Senate Chambers; the Patent Office, the depository of all the privileges of invention; the Treasury; the Museum; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
I chose a different rail line for my return to Mexico, the Baltimore (the great maritime shipyard) and Ohio. The entire track was covered in snow and the cold was excessive; but the furnaces maintained a pleasant temperature in the train. The Potomac River recalls Fenimore Cooper and indigenous customs; it also brings to mind that the states of Virginia and Maryland are as industrious as they are rich. In the picturesque Harpers Ferry, I thought about the abolitionist, John Brown, who was a victim of the humanitarian and generous idea of 1859. The house, in which he attempted to be a redeemer for the slaves, still stands.
Meanwhile, it continued to snow, and after passing Topeka, we found ourselves in a situation in which the train could not continue since the track was not clear. The worse part was that the dining car had been joined to the train that had just crossed ours. We saw hills of snow on both sides; a hotel stood out between the trees, but it was closed because it was only open during the summer.
Nothing interrupted our trip to El Paso del Norte; there, I stayed one day, breathing warmer air and delighting in the notable change of temperature. Mexico’s breezes were spring-like, and when I arrived in the capital, it seemed like the middle of summer to me. That climate is so lovely!
Five months later, I returned to the United States on my way to Europe, and, what a coincidence: my fellow countryman and traveler from the previous trip was a fellow traveler once again; but this time he was accompanied by a graceful, lively, and good young lady. She was his wife. The newlyweds were on their way to Paris, and from there, Spain, for their honeymoon.
Aboard the French steamer, the Brittany , I abandoned the American beaches and– why not confess it? – I watched them disappear with profound sadness and a sweet and eloquent farewell, rose to my lips from the depths of my soul, full of hopes and memories.
Farewell, I told the fathomless abysses; the rugged mountain ranges; the unrivaled flower gardens; the extremely high summits that surround an eternal crown of snow; the torrents and waterfalls; the immense, deep, overflowing rivers; and so many caring and enthusiastic friends, whose memory will stay with me until my soul abandons its earthly prison to soar to the regions of infinity.