Nacente, Francisco, Historia moral de las mujeres: influencia de la mujer en el progreso y cultura de las naciones: sus deberes, sus derechos en la sociedad y la familia: educación y enseñanza que convendría para su misión. Vol 1 & 2 (Barcelona (Espana): Francisco Nacente, 1889 y 1991)
US American women, from the richest cities with the strangest mix of people, often go out unaccompanied, yet not even the slightest suspicion falls upon them. Here, the complete opposite occurs; and how can it not, if we paint them a picture of society as a constant danger, which they can avoid only through private life or with a man’s protection if she is to abandon it? When this system is most able to increase said fear, the woman actually dominated by it will wander through the streets flustered and confused if she dares to go out alone. That shyness increases the impudence of stupid and rude men. Another would be the consideration and respect that surround the Spanish woman; for example, if she were accustomed since childhood to challenge those types of dangers, which are actually imaginary, she would acquire the necessary courage to keep those annoying men in line, who, for the mere fact of being men, think they have the right to torment women.
Sometimes hope, which some European censors have expressed regarding the liberty of the English and US American women, has been able to impulse their readers to deplore, with them, the supposed obduracy and degradation that must be the inevitable consequence of this liberty. Yes, such is the impression produced in thoughtless people by that contrast between said confidence and the fear and circumspection that we feel. But the thinking man cannot do anything less than confess the incompetence of those who condemn in virtue of their own customs, those of a people who become morally and materially greater each day. Those customs, which have probably formed over time, could not suddenly implant themselves in the heart of a society that is not prepared for them. But there is no doubt that national institutions
Now: those highly-respected women in the midst of their independence are the glory of their homeland, the pride of their nation, and our lamentations regarding the excess of the liberty conceded to them are like sermons in the desert. And why should we be so pretentious or hasty as to dare to proclaim something to be bad, which cannot be better, which cannot produce better results?
On the other hand, everything in civilization is connected: the development of instruction and the strength of understanding have corresponded among the US American women to the habits of liberty that have made their character firmer and more energetic, manlier– since regarding this matter we believe that energy and firmness are only appropriate in men, and we qualify any woman with this latter quality as having a manly character.
And because this woman has become much more superior to those in other countries, she is treated, due to a natural force, with more respect and consideration than those where they make a display of respecting her more. We have proof of this in the recent event that occurred in the Ohio House of Representatives, where a bill has been presented that says that a husband who is unmanly enough to hit or physically mistreat his wife will suffer twenty-four public lashings. Are there other countries in the civilized world that respect the fairer sex in a similar way? Is there another nation in which such issues are raised for the benefit of the beautiful half of the human race? Are there many legislators who occupy themselves with avenging the unfortunate daughters of the people, frequently overwhelmed by the brutality of a husband? No, we, the people who call ourselves civilized and say that the woman should never leave her house unaccompanied, allow a man to hit his wife… and it is not only the men of the popular class who descend to commit such a despicable and cowardly act… the husband of the most refined classes also dares to lay a hand…or foot… on the unfortunate mother of his children… Wretched coward! ... Does this vile man not deserve to be taken to a public square and embarrassed there, amidst a crowd, on top of a catafalque, to be expertly whipped? How can we be men while our mothers are treated as beasts?
Woman’s conquests over the masculine dominion will, undoubtedly, be eternally limited by the laws of nature and by the distinct intellectual and moral talents that adorn her and which will never be absolutely equal to those that characterize men. But, at least, they assure them an honorable place, which, although different from the one man occupies in society, does not make the legitimate equality of both sexes stop corresponding to them.
In order to more intimately understand US American society, we will record some customs among the observations we attempt to make in this chapter. One of the most characteristic customs is the one we are going to describe through a short anecdote, which we will allow ourselves to reproduce here and which is not well known in Europe.
One day, an unknown young man presented himself before the lawyer Diggle, of New York University; his worried and distressed expression revealed that some affair of notorious importance had brought him there.
“Sir, I have been in New York for a period of three months, where I arrived from Mexico, my homeland. I have met many people in this beautiful US American city, among them, a family that includes a very beautiful young woman who arrived with her parents at the inn on the same day as I. But I swear to you, sir, that I was polite and obliging
“Speaking to this young lady, I explained how I had saved a young Mexican lady, in the following terms: I found myself walking alone some three leagues from the capital, near a country house belonging to a relative of mine, when, off in the distance, I saw a runaway horse mounted by a young lady. The horse was galloping quickly through a type of untilled meadow and was running toward an abyss located 100 meters from the country house. Upon seeing the danger that threatened the young woman, who seemed familiar to me as I neared the horse, I had a burst of energy and began to run so as to intercept the horse’s path, which was very close to the abyss; it was the shorted route and easiest for my objective.
“The young woman struggled in vain to dominate the runaway steed that was a breath away from where I had advanced… The young Mexican lady was going to fall into the abyss and die. I carefully hurled myself at the animal’s head, grabbing it by the bridle… and that jump saved the young lady, who was the daughter of a general of the Republic, who lived in the capital.”
“I want to say that I have not been intimate with the young lady from the inn, whom we will call Sofia, except for having told her the story that I have just recounted, which seems to have interested her very much.”
“Hello!” exclaimed the lawyer, smiling as if he began to understand the affair for which he was being consulted. “And you, nevertheless, affirm that you have never permitted yourself the most minor of liberties.”
“Demand is not the word: it employs a certain delicateness to begin and her exigency does not have that threatening form. She has only asked me in good spirits, but each time, she adds: ‘You already know that it will cost you if you do not want to marry me.’”
The explanations lasted a long time, with the lawyer unable to ascertain the grounds on which Miss Sofia supported herself to advance such a grave demand, despite his being one of New York’s best lawyers.
“Accept!” exclaimed the young man, sitting up quickly. “Even if I am condemned along with all the devils, I do not want to and cannot marry now! ... There will be lawsuits and more lawsuits, sir… I will not marry by force, not even for all the gold in the world. Who does this young lady think she is? I give you carte blanche to employ everything in my defense, even if it requires false witnesses to respond to whatever she presents in her defense… Marry her! … Never, never, and never!
It cost the lawyer much to make the young foreigner understand that the thing that had him so flustered and fretful was a simple joke derived from the privileges conferred upon US American women by the leap year, and a negative response to Sofia’s marriage proposal was any inexpensive jewel.
Finally calmed down, the young man went to buy a ring, which he hurried to give to Miss Sofia that same afternoon as a ransom for his engagement. On the following day, he left New York, fearing the lawyer’s indiscretions and the ridicule that such a false step could attract, which he had taken with such formality and energy.
“It is impossible,” he says, “to hide the rapid progress of the demoralization among all the classes of the US American people, which has been taking place for some years back. In a period of time not too distant, which all of us should remember, great esteem was given to the essential qualities of women married to those who were the pride of our fathers.
“In conformance with the English traditions, pleasure and liberty were the exclusive patrimony of the young women who never abused them in society. They were all educated with that double objective: to enjoy the charms and appeals of society before matrimony and then consecrate their life to the duties and enjoyments of family. The distinction between society and family was exaggerated in this matter, a distinction which was given all the appearances of incompatibility. That was, without a doubt, taking the exigencies to the extreme and deprived society of the most useful incentives for its moral development. One after another, the most graceful and enchanting young ladies, which shone the most during all types of parties, disappeared from the theater of their triumphs on the day after their marriage, exclusively consecrated from that day forward to the needs of house and husband. At that time there were people who complained, not without reason, about so much reservation; but today, nobody could complain about the same thing.
“We have fallen into the complete opposite, and ahead we have the young ladies of New York, I am referring to those of the highest and most select class, who do not seem to understand life except through pleasures and vanities both before and after matrimony. Nothing predisposes them to family life; they lack, in general, the necessary education to be distinguished women in society, sensible wives, and careful and loving mothers in the heart of the home. In reality, most of them are poorly educated, as we said, or perhaps they are neither educated a little nor much in this matter. Knowing how to dress, dance, sing constitute the basis of their education; their exclusive concern is to dazzle and enjoy themselves as much as possible. And what are they to do if they are not taught anything else since childhood?
“Many people from our land ridicule the strict reservation in which the young women of the European continent are raised; but examining and considering everything, we will see that perhaps the system followed in New York is more dubious and I do not believe that this one is the preferable one, or that it produces the best results.
“An uninterested, impartial spectator of any country, who attends our parties will not cease to be surprised and perhaps will be scandalized by the extraordinary abandon that characterizes the attitude of the young women toward men and the equivocal familiarity with which they are treated, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. There is something more than just a lack of distinction in this; there is a lack of tact, that is, so as not to say shame.
“Is it very demanding and harsh to find in very bad taste, among distinguished people, the confusion in which dancers (undoubtedly as a pretext of resting) lie down on the stairs? Sometimes, I have seen a couple on each step, producing in reality, as well as in perspective, an entanglement of heads, arms, feet, hands, knees, etc., etc., infinitely more eccentric than decorous. If a lady were to go up to another floor to get ready to leave the ball, do not believe that those gentlemen and young ladies think about getting up to facilitate the movement. They would think it preferable to lie down, so that those who walk by must step over them, or better yet, off to the side.”
It is implied that there is exaggeration in the excerpt we have just reproduced and, above all, that it does not refer to more than one part, one place, of the US American people. If this abandon described by said writer exists in the elevated aristocracy, we must note that
In contrast with those strange abuses of good manners, the US American people can be described in a few lines: they are moral and dignified even amid strange license; they are harsh toward those who seem to make fun of someone. Is there, by chance, any country where such great libertinism is secretly practiced and in which society is more or less indulgent with those who need or are clumsy enough to let themselves be surprised? And it is understood: however that people has formed itself from such diverse elements and of people so corrupt, it is there that the fugitive criminals from all over the world have turned, the truth is that in secret, the people accustomed to evil and to immorality do not know how to hold on to good customs explained by the laws and majority of the population. Once more, this demonstrates the injustice of the slanderers of the US American society, who, without making a case of the distinction that we have just made, confuse all the classes and elements to condemn an evil that in all fairness should only be attributed to the person to whom it corresponds.
We do not have to negate that some deviations and inconveniences of the US American people proceed from a depth of extreme arrogance that dominates the entire nation. But this is a defect that does not lead to immorality and does lead to haughtiness, a pride that sometimes translates into exaggerated patriotism, as occurs among the English, French, and all those who consider themselves superior.
That excessive vanity engenders a sentiment, a passion in all levels of society, among women just as in men, of exaggerated independence and, at the same time, a forgetfulness and general exceeding carelessness of duties. We understand that they should correct those defects that diminish a people for believing themselves to be exceedingly great.
With the motive of horrific crime in New York a few years ago, the United States Post, which carefully and reflexively studies certain phases of US American life, made the following observations that we deeply believe to be just, although perhaps in exaggerated form, due to the excitement that the crime provoked in the writer:
“From there blooms a lugubrious light over the moral state of certain New York youth; but this light is nothing new to us. It is enough to pass through the crowd that swarms at night through the sidewalks, taverns, or cheap restaurants to know the life, the aspirations, the principles, and the ideas of the generation that grows around ours. Raised during a time of transition, amidst the austere simplicity of the former US American life and the rapid development of a more dazzling civilization, the youth that approaches the age of man today has taken the defects of both systems, without acquiring their virtues and good qualities.
“Said youth find themselves in the presence of temptations, which they do not know how to resist because they were not previously armed against them by the healthy and robust family education that is customary among European youth. They have entered into life too fast and too freely, far from acquiring lessons from around them that moderate their natural impulses: thirst for gold, disregard of all law and all discipline, daily public corruption, the need to impress considerable superiority on everything– such is the perspective that is offered to their eyes wherever they go, wherever they look. In addition, where is the light to illuminate them, the brake to contain them?
“Social reforms! The entire world is thinking about them, and perhaps a little too much in the United States, especially the women. In search of the so-called freethinkers, the United States has recently had the free lovers. An idea of this new sect can be given in a few lines. On August 25 of last year, a large reunion of reformists was celebrated in Rutland (Vermont).  The assembly was made up of a million people, among them, abolitionists, spiritualists, and free lovers. Diverse proposals were presented, which glorified spiritualism or condemned slavery, matrimony, maternity, the Bible, etc. Ernestine L. Rose H.C. Wright and other celebrities of the libertine camp pronounced brave, somewhat violent discourses. The session was about to end when the valiant Julia Branch, of New York, proposed the following resolution: and other celebrities of the libertine camp pronounced brave, somewhat violent discourses. The session was about to end when the valiant Julia Branch, of New York, proposed the following resolution:
“Resolved, That the slavery and degradation of woman proceed from the institution of marriage; that by the marriage contract, she loses control of her name, her person, her property, her labor, her affections, her children, and her freedom.”
This proposal was singularly defended and elected with enthusiasm. The speeches demonstrated that the institution of marriage submerges woman in the abjection of moral and mental slavery. “Liberty must be reclaimed, the right to receive salaries equal to those given to men, the right to have children when she wants, and with whomever she is comfortable, etc., etc.”
Here we will stop such quotations; without wanting to, we could perhaps go past the desires of our most curious female readers. The preceding information seems to us to be enough to calm them in regard to the future of woman’s liberties in the United States. The exaggerations themselves show that this is the opinion of only a few, even in those circumstances when they surface due to the disturbance of the moment.
Similar shameless acts do not impede simplicity and candor from shining among certain classes of US American women who form the great majority of the nation and do not pay much attention to the excesses sometimes produced by liberty.
The education received by women in the United States is worth mentioning, and it undoubtedly contributes to being able to enjoy the independence that so scandalizes certain timid men on our continent. She is more serious, profound, and thorough than the woman of the other people of the world, so that in her treatment, in her conversations, one can find a charm more powerful than a simple exchange of compliments and vulgarities. The most difficult topics of conversation can arise even with the younger women, as if that land’s girls had the same experience as 50 year-old European women.
There is no doubt that a 15 year-old girl would not allow herself to be caught in the web of seduction, unless it was willingly and knowingly. Perhaps one would say that she has acquired that experience through early contact with the world, and that is not exact. There, mothers do not neglect the most delicate part of their daughters’ education that consists of preparing them for the dangers to which many often succumb, not innocence, but rather, to say it in better terms, ignorance. In the middle of the complete liberty that they enjoy, they learn the secrets and evil arts of seduction, without suffering the dismal consequences that are often noticed in other peoples.
As proof of the extreme liberty that the young women of the United States enjoy, we will say that a great number of them travel anywhere they want and adopt inn life, in the same way as men. It is probable that in Europe we could not believe in those customs without harboring thoughts contrary to virtue; but that is worse for us, because with that, we indicate that woman is still only worthy of a very low concept among us. There, the Yankees, more positive and practical people than us, believe that men are equal to women, that women are equal to men. Who are these dreamers? They progress; we drag behind: there, women are worth more each day; here, she appears to be a stationary being.
It is important to know that inn life in the United States is a thing that we do not understand. In the United States, unmarried people of either sex who do not live with their family, take refuge in the inns both to eat and to sleep. Even more, many rich people accept this lifestyle to be more comfortable and free.
Many rich families also adopt this system, and this stems not from having lodgings or rooms to rent, as in our European inns, but rather that each family has, strictly speaking, their home there. Now, in order to have a house there, it is important to have many servants and to exert tiresome vigilance over them; and some people, because they must spend the majority of their day outside their house, and others, in order to free themselves from all bothers, prefer to retire to the inns. Morality permits this method of life more easily because the two sexes can live completely separate; since the men have their special entrance, their particular rooms, a building wing entirely separate or independent, the dining halls without the most minor communication with that of the women’s and lastly, they cannot socialize with the women within these establishments even though they live under the same roof.
In a word, there are two inns in one inn, and the two sexes only live mixed when it involves a family or married couple in special rooms; normal domestic home life continues in its diverse manifestations.
In passing, we will note that this separation of the two sexes in the United States is found in all the conditions of private life: in trains, the women have completely separate cars designated for them without the need to claim them as “reserved,” as in Spain; river or ocean steamboats have rooms and halls for them, in which no man would dare to enter under any pretext. Those instructions are so general, so respected, at least they appear to be, that the woman is so secure that no man could possibly say a more or less sharp word to her; that the parents can be completely calm in regard to their daughters’ purity because they know that if she does not want to, she does not have to fear any of the dangers of seduction that could easily present themselves due to the idleness of long hours spent in the company of youths of the opposite sex.
With the extraordinary liberty that women enjoy in the United States, it was natural to find a guarantee and type of protection in the customs. This is how a young woman can travel alone or in the company of other women from South Canada, spend whole seasons at the baths, be absent for many months from the paternal house, without her parents feeling the slightest anxiety, and what’s more, without any man that would
“Gentleman, you sir, or anyone who surrounds me, the first to address me, would defend me against the most minor of insults if it were necessary, or if there were any fool who dared to do anything in the land of true liberty.”
In the United States, a young woman who sets off on a journey is accompanied by her mother or her father until reaching the steamboat or the train. But in a fit of maternal devotion and affection, the mother sometimes entrusts her to the first, somewhat distinguished traveler whom she finds there; and frequently it occurs that such improvised guardians have taken the good zeal of their mission to the extreme of accompanying their charge further past the point in which they were to terminate their voyage. No one is surprised by these acts of true gallantry and attention; they are so frequent and considered so natural, that a well-bred man feels he is obligated to that type of sacrifice.
Sometimes, the young woman chooses her gentleman protector herself. And who would doubt that in this case the selection is inspired by a liking or preference that can awaken love in the hearts of both youths? Could one say that this would be disastrous for the woman in a country where the same immorality as Europe’s secretly exists, at least in customs, where dignity and discretion between the two sexes appears to reign? It is not strange for a marriage to result from this preference given by a young woman and, on rare occasions, very rare occasions, despite what the prudish say, an illegitimate union.
So notorious is the independence that young US American women enjoy, so much confidence is conceded to her virtue, since this is the best guarantee of itself, that they can receive visitors in their own home, in the house of their parents, all visitors whom they can accommodate, without their parents becoming anxious or worrying. “Abomination!” exclaim those who cannot understand the grandeur of these customs and all the dignity that they envelop. All the worse for them. That exclamation will prove that the system of suspicion and distrust that rules in Europe has decreased their spirit and they are not capable of understanding the customs in a system of vast independence in which all responsibility is reserved for the individual, whatever their sex. If education were to be added to this abandon, fears could be entertained; but it is not necessary for us to take pity on the Yankees now. With their system of liberty, they do not have to lament any more fallen youth than us with our imprisonment of virtue. To how many considerations does this difference lend itself?!
We could cite examples of many young women loved by their families, very sweet daughters, who have not introduced the young men or gentlemen they’ve met who knows how far from their homes, to their mothers, until after one, two, or more months of assiduous visits and after they have agreed upon marrying soon. Among other analogous cases, we shall cite that of the daughter of a distinguished New York lawyer, who “accepted, upon leaving a dance,” says Xavier Eyma “to go to dinner with one of my friends, without the father among the party and without him making the slightest objection. It should be noted that no one besides the inviter and the invitee were to be at this dinner.”
We do not want to deny that there is some exaggeration in this system and that it is just as easy to sin from an excess of liberty as it is from excess of deprivation; but it should be observed that apart from the poetic disenchantment that, given European beliefs, can produce such independent customs, the truth is that the married women of the United States are generally models of virtue, they are wives of exemplary conduct, tender mothers of families who share with the father the education and care of their children, who tenderly love their families, and are, the same or more than our own, the true angels of the home. Nor
The most characteristic trait that can be cited regarding the United States, in relation to the custom’s high level of independence, which reigns there in favor of women, is the following: at the same time it will serve to give an exact idea of the manner in which the US Americans exercise hospitality, those people who we suppose to be at times positivist in the extreme, only interested in money, cold, indifferent, and unaware of the heart’s sweet emotions and delights.
The frank, familiar, sincere welcome that the traveler encounters wherever they go in the New World, is one of the things that pleasantly calls the attention and that completely contrasts with the egoism and mistrust that is ordinarily encountered on this side of the Atlantic.
Whichever New World port you go to, whether willingly or by force, whether or not you take recommendations, you can have the security of encountering the type of welcome worthy of a father, a brother, a friend of twenty years. In all the houses the open their doors to the newly-arrived of other lands, there are a thousand spontaneous screams of joy, a thousand welcoming smiles: the eyes, hands, lips give him expressive, candid thank yous, as if he brought them long-desired happiness, or as if they had doubted that they would once again be able to fill an empty place.
“From the head of the family,” adds the last-cited writer, “to the gentle little ones, even the servants, even the dog that saves its barks for nocturnal thieves and never for household friends, all of them run to meet the newly-arrived traveler. At first, one would believe himself to be the object of an error, afraid of usurping, in a way, an awaited friend’s joy, smiles, congratulations, and cordial greetings, and he feels ready to say that they must forgive him, but they undoubtedly have him confused with another, when he hears the master or the lady of the house ask with the utmost friendliness:
You respond. No one knows you; they have never heard your name mentioned in their lives and yet, a flattering smile takes over your words. You no longer have any qualms; you are convinced that they were not expecting you; but at least they are very happy to see you. In reality, I do not know why they ask your name, if not to facilitate conversation and order the servants to give you the letters that could arrive for you in the mail.
When I returned much later to the Antilles and to the United States, everywhere I went, I encountered with indescribable joy that cordial hospitality that I learned in my childhood. Somewhat accustomed, due to the effects of a long stay in France, to the customs, the egoism, the miserable considerations of antiquated Europe, I confess that the first days I felt a type of involuntary shyness and mortification; ideas crossed through my mind, which the Europeans call discretion and are in reality hypocrisy and fallacy.
One or two times I could not help but manifest my thoughts; and when that string was played, they frankly asked me what I was involved in, begging me to take care of what was important to me and not what was other people’s business.
“Then, what is this talk of you bothering us? You find everything acceptable at the moment; stay with us as long as you need and as you permit us, even though we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for having honored us by accepting our poor hospitality.”
This was more or less how my excuses, inspired by European discretion, were received by two or three families. I did not wish to repeat them as long as I had to suffer the same series of reproaches from each of the family members.
Nevertheless, I suddenly believed, without wanting to reduce the elevation of such a noble sentiment in the slightest, that I could find an explanation that would satisfy my European scruples and – why not confess it? – that would give me the reasoning behind that lavishness for a stranger, believing I could see it in the monotony of the life of the majority of families and in the almost-general ideas that everyone lives there in exile. I deduced that they received a great consolation in receiving a face, work that would interrupt the uniformity of the picture, a visit that would distract them from the prison's boredom.
“When I arrive,” I told myself, “in an American country where life is simpler than that of Europe, in which the society is more numerous and compact, where one finds, in sum, everything that is commonly known as the world, I will undoubtedly have the displeasure of finding egoism, customs, and polite though petty attentions of the old continent. ” Well, none of that happened to me.
In the United States, hospitality, which presents itself in a more formal manner than in the European colonies, is no less sincere, less complete, and less formal. More than in the English Antilles, it reflects the primitive, national character that the US Americans have exaggerated in order to make the customs their own and special. In the part of the United States that has remained most sheltered from the mixing of other European races, hospitality is not quickly offered to the first stranger with the most willingness of the world; and it is because, above all, the US American wants to know with whom he is dealing: before a stranger, he is marble or a block of ice, not due to a lack of heart, but rather due to fear of injuring his dignity… he is a slave to the formula of presentation; a person to whom no one has introduced him does not seem to inspire the slightest of interest. It is not always enough for a traveler to give his name and qualities to awaken a smile of benevolence or a satisfying, welcoming word.
But how quickly that serious aspect turns happy and jovial, how rapidly that hand is extended to the stranger when the latter presents him with a letter of introduction or when a friend vouches for him! That US American cold not long before- so serious and calm- that almost impertinent woman, that haughty or disdainful young woman, that almost-rude boy, suddenly transforms; and a cordial friendliness, a graceful smile, a familiarity without example has followed the previously-noticed tension.
Upon traveling northward later, and entering the truly American part of the United States, I was surprised to find the same welcome everywhere under the conditions that I just indicated, namely that of presenting a letter of recommendation or being introduced by a friend. There was no difference between what I had seen and what I later found.
Now, the odd side of US American customs is the extraordinary liberty granted to young women, under the guardianship and guarantee of education and under the honor and dignity somewhat evident of the first who calls at the door in search of said hospitality. This proves once again that over there, woman, in all the phases of her life, after childhood, is considered to be a free being and responsible for her actions, and they do not have such a petty view of virtue as we do, since we hardly believe in her except when we stifle her, putting her in the position of not being virtuous through force of hindrances and restrictions.
On the steamboat on which I traveled from the Hudson, I found an old colleague. We spoke on the quarterdeck during the intermissions– let me put it this way, they were kind enough to provide us with some atrocious musicians, a bugler, a guitarist, and a clarinet player who had embarked with the pretext of livening up the voyage. Near us stood a young US American woman, very beautiful, whom I privately guessed to be 16 or 17 years old. In one of those intermissions, which I blessed with my entire soul, my friend asked me if I was in the spirit of remaining in New York for a long time.
Upon hearing this name, undoubtedly without listening, the young US American woman turned quickly and looked at me from head to toe with a curiosity and attention that I did not comprehend at the moment.
The young woman, who had appeared indifferent and apathetic at the beginning of our conversation and who had later paid attention to what we were saying after we mentioned the names of the major and the senator, resolutely addressed us and said to me:
“My parents’ absence does not matter, sir; if you do not find the company of a young woman too fastidious, please be so kind as to accept the hospitality that you were going to seek in my father’s house: I will open the house to you.”
I do the grace of providing my readers with the preliminaries; it is enough to know that some hours later, I crossed the streets of New York, taking the arm of the beautiful, young Maria, as if I accompanied a sister of mine; and I settled into the major’s house just as naturally as if he had been there to make his roof be respected. When he arrived, Maria introduced me as an old friend of three days, which we spent in extremely respectful company, full of simplicity and naturalness. Not the slightest shadow of mistrust passed through the major’s or his wife’s faces… the knowledge that a stranger had stayed in their absence under the roof that covered their daughter’s honor did not impress the slightest of suspicion on them.
Perhaps I err in saying that they did not feel the slightest mistrust and did not have any suspicion, since they demonstrated fear that the young lady of the house would not have known how to fulfill her duty with me with all the attentiveness that the case required.
Major T… was not rich, but his hospitality did not lack anything to make it pleasant and even lavish, I might say, in its simplicity. There was no question of pride or any speculative matter in that excellent family; they practiced hospitality with me in the same way it was practiced all across the New World. A guest has rights to decent treatment, without comparison, in a poor man’s house, in a rich man’s house, in simply a well-off house.
It is necessary, with everything, to become in charge of one very important thing, and that is to make sure that the lodged guest is never inconvenienced or bothered. Hospitality is a rule of life in the United States; it is one of the first duties inscribed in the domestic law. In effect, during the home and food distribution, a part and room are set aside for the guest, just as is done for family members.
Even in the periods less favorable to the practice of this holy custom, it was scrupulously observed, even toward people who did not truly deserve that right and toward whom an excuse could have been given not to practice it. During the last war, between the United States and Mexico, I saw prisoners arrive in New York. There was no house that did not open its doors to them to invite them to come in, not a single one stopped considering themselves honored and fortunate to be able to offer the most wretched of them that vast and grandiose hospitality that I have just described.
There is a scene at the beginning of Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Spy, which gives an exact idea of what US American hospitality is during times of turbulence, war, and public hatred. The truth is that one notices something that comes out of the cold and ceremonious customs of the US Americans; but this should be attributed precisely to the unusual circumstances that demand great circumspection while also awakening a certain natural abandon, despite the amount of what some people call prudence and other people call fear.
In that scene, a traveler unknown to anyone in the Wharton family arrives. It is the middle of the war of independence; this stranger enters the house; Mr. Wharton asks him to sit and in order to find out his name, he offers him a glass of rich Madiera wine, saying:
But, in the middle of eating, someone calls at the door. Another unknown traveler asks for hospitality. His appearance upsets everyone… It does not matter much; they ask him to enter, and he also sits at the table.
We do not feel the need to reproduce that scene here, which our female readers could read elsewhere. The abovementioned is enough to demonstrate that this people, who some call egotistic and positive, understands, perhaps, better than the Europeans the sweet expansion of poetic, noble, and generous life.
Nor would we have spoken about US American hospitality if we had not wanted to make it clear that, even in such a delicate matter, as indicated, woman is considered to be equal to man, without foolish fears or false ideas of morality opposing the independence that elevates woman to man’s level. And surely the US Americans do not regret nor will they regret nobly fortifying feminine individuality.
But it is convenient to note that the seriousness and good sense that distinguishes them and gives them influence, which is undoubtedly more important than that reserved by her sex in the rest of earth’s countries, over US American society, contributes to the development of women’s character in the New World. Yes, as she expands her rights daily, the woman is worth more each day; and thus, with the moral dominion that they are given by that superior value, she could elevate herself to the same height that the lost women of other nations try to reach through ridiculous efforts.
Woman’s true emancipation has been fulfilled in the United States; and as you can see, there is no need for the most austere virtues of her sex to be abdicated for such an effect. If the current level of morality does not correspond in that land to what the rigorous moralists could think themselves rightly able to claim, we must agree that there is no other nation that has occupied itself so much and in such a complete and formal manner with woman’s elevation, and in which men have demonstrated themselves to be most severe against attacks on family honor and dignity. Yes, despite how often the ignorant and blind detractors say that it is impossible to lift oneself up off the floor in a country with such moral liberty, there are no people on earth where woman is so honored, where virtue is respected and so much is guaranteed.
What can’t we expect from the people who, with the State of Ohio, have proclaimed that any man who hits his wife shall suffer the affront and punishment of twenty-five lashes in the public square? Will we, Europeans, pass a law one day that contains so much respect for the fairer sex and that punishes, in the most degrading manner, the vile cowardice of the man who abuses his strength by hitting a weak woman? Oh! ... someone might exclaim, this only occurs among the lower classes. This is inaccurate; we have also seen it in the middle and upper classes. And then, do the common men’s unfortunate wives stop being women? Or is it that, since they are accustomed to a life of trouble and problems, it is not necessary for them to even attempt to study to better their condition, to simultaneously improve the condition of the whole of humanity?
We adduce the US American laws concerning morals so as to reveal how many errors are proclaimed by those who, at odds with woman’s liberty, would like to maintain a rigorous past in which only strength prevailed. In all of New England’s states, populated by a race of Puritans, the law severely punished relations between unmarried people, reserving the right to impose one of the three following punishments, at their discretion:
The majority of the times, the last two punishments were applied, especially when the concubinage was not voluntary, but rather, the man, following the practices of other peoples and speaking words of matrimony or other securities, had seduced the woman.
A widow had remarried– a simple and natural thing. Many years had passed, giving the couple a happiness that seemed endless. But it was discovered that this couple had carried on an illegitimate relationship while the first husband was alive. The great mystery had, nevertheless, protected that affair, until suspicion was born one day perhaps from some incidents, some indiscretion, or perhaps an accusation.
The couple was apprehended and once they were in prison, a criminal trial followed. They were not absolved of the punishment; they purged their sin with the opprobrium of prison, even though the offended person had been unable to complain for many years. This provides evident proof that morality is desired. Would the same have occurred in some country in civilized Europe?
From that great authority prescribed by the law, sustained by an almost masculine education, maintained by the type of life and the US American customs that are conserved in equal state by tradition, results an exceptional position for woman. There, she is not as adulated as among us, but she is ceaselessly respected. Everything contributes to her not needing to weep for her honor or for her weakness.
Who knows if the severe sect spirit, born in US America, more ardent and inflexible than among us, which women have embraced with even more faith than men, proceeds from this! This reveals a side in their character that can be considered ridiculous and which we will quickly review.
The sect that is most generally spread through the United States is that of the Quakers, reputed for their activity. The influence enjoyed in this country is just as powerful as the fruit of a slow conquest painfully reached through the force of unending fights, capable of wearing down the best patience.
In the United States– that country that seems so cold and apathetic in appearance, so tolerant of all ideas despite their order– religious spirit has produced the most violent fanaticism throughout time. This is, perhaps, the only point in which liberty is trampled, particularly in the Eastern and Northern states, where it seems that tradition wanted it so. Not many years ago, a violent fight opposing liberty started, and churches near Philadelphia were set on fire, and the brawl ended with gunshots and stabbings.
The first colonists who arrived at the Plymouth pennon and populated New England were Puritans, who had suffered cruelly for their ideas in the motherland, from where they were exiled. While taking on the spirit of rigor and austereness, which should have assured their triumph in the future, they also implanted religious intolerance in the American soil. Themselves victims of the intolerance that obligated them to cross the Atlantic, they turned it into a weapon, which, in turn, would be fatal for them.
The first legislative acts, which served as a foundation for the social pact with the New England colonies, are imprinted with a severity that can be qualified as absurd. This explains why some of the period’s laws include prescriptions that obligated, by threat of fines, divine service attendance; and the most severe punishments– sometimes death– fell upon those who worshipped God in a way that was different from the manners introduced by the colonizers. Thus, for example, the Massachusetts penal code provided that any Catholic priest who set foot again in the colony from which he was exiled, would suffer the ignominious
As soon as the first Quakers (of both sexes) arrived in this same country, they found themselves accosted and persecuted in the most injurious manner. As proof of it, we cite a 1656 law that begins with these words: “Considering that a wicked sect has been born not too long ago of heretics called Quakers…” And in continuation, the methods taken against those who distinguished themselves as rigorous followed... Ship captains who carried any Quakers on board were sentenced to pay a large fine.
Those to whom it occurred to defend the opinions of such heretics were temporarily sentenced to pay a fine, and in the case of repetition, to suffer in prison, and lastly, they were exiled from the province like criminals. So, he who had the virtue of tolerance was also punished as a delinquent.
It is difficult to believe today, upon seeing the influence that this sect enjoys, that its origin was so implacably troubled in the classic land of liberty. The fierce fights that public opinion and the law put up against the Quakers produced a tradition of making war through ideas, which they had brought, in part, from Europe and inoculated them very quickly with that ardor of proselytism inherited by their sect members.
They were especially astute because they knew how to get women interested in their cause, and you can say whatever you want, but when the latter decides in favor of a cause, much has accomplished. The proverb was not made in vain: What woman wants, God wants. No wonder they had counted on feminine enthusiasm and faith; and, thanks to women, religious despotism, which in turn gave the Quakers an example, increased considerably. The sect was established little by little, growing more each day, due, in effect, to female influence; and the more it consolidated with that slow and peaceful conquest, the more it manifested itself as tyrannical and intolerant.
Even today, the Quaker women are intractable sect members, whose austerity borders on eccentricity. Her sanctimoniousness is so exaggerated and so meticulous that she deserves to be treated like a child and she surpasses all the limits that English women have imagined due to susceptibility. That is why they put pants on pianos, motivated by decency, and they do not tolerate the mentioning of the name of those pieces of wood that support the piano box, which are called legs in English. Their religion authorizes them to marry but under conditions that are not decorous to mention here.
Today, Philadelphia is the city where the most Quaker women can be found; its streets look like the cloisters of a huge convent. That city was founded by William Penn, head of the Quakers, who, when on his way to take possession of the province to which he gave his name- Pennsylvania- as payment for debts accumulated by the English Crown to his father, took two boats full of fellow believers, with whom he inundated the new province. The Quakers had already won their cause in US America; but Penn’s and his companions' arrival filled the gap, completed the triumph. From that moment, their power began to expand.
The Quakers’ life is, at least in appearance, very austere, their outfits very severe and simple; they wear a black outfit with an old fashioned dress coat and wide-brimmed hat of the same color. Their dress is not at all extraordinary; but, to tell the truth, the outfit worn by the Quaker women has the qualities of a costume and is ridiculous. Whatever their age, they wear short smocks, a little wide and almost tight on their buttocks. The sleeves are the same width through the length of the arm and are very wide: a small mantelet, open in the back, which does not really pass one inch below the waist, is crossed at the chest to take its extremities to each side of the waist. A
We must confess that, apart from intolerance, this sect has a special merit over all who invade the Union’s land and it is to give healthy influence that is exercised over the masses, where it inspires constant enlightenment and teaching. From its dream have come very eminent men who are the glory of the United States.
It is probable that, in the memory of the intolerance suffered by their sect during the beginnings of English colonization and very proud of the period of liberty that shone in US America, they would desire to renounce all affiliation with the previous possessors of that immense territory. For them, the world only dates back to the Battle of Lexington, prelude to US American independence. They are, before all else, Yankees (pronounced yánquis), and pure Yankees.
“We would like for all women, of whatever age or condition, young or old, widowed or single, who astutely employ perfumes and essences, remedies, cosmetics, false teeth, false hair or wigs, high heeled shoes, low-cut dresses, and skirts with trains in order to attract a man for marriage to be punished with the full force of the law, as guilty of a pact with the devil or magic or witchcraft, and all unions brought to success by methods so unnatural and diabolical be declared illegitimate and worthless.”
So that the spirit of equality, which reins in that great nation, can be understood at once we shall say that at this point, there is no distinction between the two sexes, and the same goes for the social order as in the family, all classes of society are treated with equal delicateness. In many US American families, the female laborers that work daily are treated as if they were family, even if their masters pertain to the most elevated aristocracy. A female worker that works in a rich family’s house is treated according to her education, conduct, and morals. Seamstresses or dressmakers, in particular, eat at the masters’ table and they work in the friendly company of the masters’ daughters, if they have any.
The influence of those equality laws are quite notoriously observed regarding marriages. Oftentimes, there are unions without distinction between classes and not heeding anything more than honor, talent, and diligence, they would appear strange to the customs and habits of our antiquated Europe. The same motives that do not oppose that an honored, well-educated female laborer, distinguished in heart and by her intelligence, be allowed to sit at rich families’ tables legitimize her entertainment of the dream to enter into the heart of the families through the wide door of matrimony. In this same way, it is common to see a poor laborer, endowed with a good heart and other personal talents, aspire to the hand of a rich, young lady, who connected him to any of life’s contingencies.
A young man from New Orleans had escaped with his neighbor’s wife. Ten months passed. One day, it occurred to the husband to take a trip to the North, because people travel extraordinarily in that country and sometimes on a whim. Chance led him to take the river route and he went up the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers. Upon arriving at Pittsburg, he did what everyone is accustomed to do: he glanced at the inn’s register, where all the travelers write their first and last name. On the third page, his eyes came across the name of his wife’s kidnapper, which caused him to cry out in anger and joy at the same time: when he least expected it, he found himself on his enemy’s tracks, since the register announced that the kidnapper was on his way to New York. Hurried, he runs to procure a ticket to that point and he travels to said capital with the speed of the US American river steamboats and trains, that is, a vertiginous speed. He spends fifteen days going to the inns and examining their registers, and finally, he discovers the tracks of the man he followed. Once again, he starts pursuing his investigations from city to city, from register to register, and he finally arrives in Nashville. He enters into the inn’s café and sees the fugitive occupied tasting a punch. He takes a gun out of his pocket, calmly advances toward him and, without saying a word, blows his brains out.
Thirty people witnessed that scene: the offended husband plainly and simply told them the story, and no one had the slightest thought of addressing the most minor of accusations. They have ideas that are very distinct from ours regarding seducers, which we believe should be admired and respected. Those husbands, more practical and less fastidious, take justice into their own hands and no one condemns it. Nevertheless, we never applaud this extreme, because it is always unjust to be judge and executor in personal cases. There, the seducer finds neither compassion nor support: on the contrary, he is considered to be vile, like a man without honor.
The State of Tennessee, the site of the adventure we have just translated, has been the theater of the most atrocious vengeances for many years. There, as well as in all of the West, at the table, anywhere, due to a single, very lively or misinterpreted word, gunshots were exchanged with serious risk to the innocent bystanders who, sometimes without knowing how, found themselves in the middle of a battle and paid for the guilty parties.
Offensive phrases had been uttered between the general and a colonel named Benton. Obeying the impetuosity of his character, Jackson had started by declaring that he would bash the colonel’s head wherever he found him.
Benton heard of these threats and, wanting to avoid the situations that could give rise to all provocation, went to stay at an inn, different from the one the general had visited in Nashville. Benton went in the company of his brother. But as soon as Jackson knew of the colonel’s arrival, he left his inn accompanied by two or three friends, and entering the room where his adversary was, he shoots a pistol before Benton has time to take a weapon. The colonel’s brother, in turn, fires at Jackson, and the gunshots are repeated by both parties with fiery rage. After running out of munitions or lacking time to reload their arms, they grab their daggers. Two of the general’s friends throw themselves on top of the colonel and stab him five times. In sum, that was a ferocious fight, which lasted less than a quarter of an hour, from which the general came out of seriously injured. Regarding Benton’s brother, he was going to surrender, knocked over by two adversaries and covered with wounds, when a Nashville citizen, who had taken his side, was able to rip him from death’s sure grasp at the moment that one of his enemies was making the supreme attempt to fire a pistol in the middle of his chest… But, what a strange thing! Justice did not allow that accident, as if it were the simplest and most natural thing in the world.