THE CONFESSIONS OF A COLLEGE PROFESSOR'S WIFE
From: How To Write Special Feature Articles
(Category: PART II
A college professor--as may be proved by any number of novels and
plays--is a quaint, pedantic person, with spectacles and a beard, but
without any passions--except for books. He takes delight in large fat
words, but is utterly indifferent to such things as clothes and
women--except the dowdy one he married when too young to know better....
It is always so interesting to see ourselves as authors see us.
Even more entertaining to us, however, is the shockingly inconsistent
attitude toward academic life maintained by practical people who know
all about real life--meaning the making and spending of money.
One evening soon after I became a college professor's wife I enjoyed the
inestimable privilege of sitting next to one of America's safest and
sanest business men at a dinner party given in his honor by one of the
trustees of the university.
When he began to inform me, with that interesting air of originality
which often accompanies the platitudes of our best citizens, that
college professors were "mere visionary idealists--all academic
theories; no practical knowledge of the world"--and so on, as usual--I
made bold to interrupt:
"Why, in the name of common sense, then, do you send your own sons to
them to be prepared for it! Is such a policy safe? Is it sane? Is it
practical?" And I am afraid I laughed in the great man's face.
He only blinked and said "Humph!" in a thoroughly businesslike manner;
but throughout the rest of the evening he viewed me askance, as though I
had become a dangerous theorist too--by marriage. So I turned my back on
him and wondered why such a large and brilliant dinner was given for
such a dull and uninteresting Philistine!
This shows, by the way, how young and ignorant I was. The mystery was
explained next day, when it was intimated to me that I had made what is
sometimes called, even in refined college circles, a break. Young
professors' wives were not expected to trifle with visitors of such
eminent solvency; but I had frequently heard the materialistic
tendencies of the age condemned in public, and had not been warned in
private that we were all supposed to do our best to work this
materialist for a million, with which to keep up the fight against
In the cloistered seclusion of our universities, dedicated to high
ideals, more deference is shown to the masters of high finance than to
the masters of other arts--let me add not because Mammon is worshiped,
but because he is needed for building cloisters.
The search for truth would be far more congenial than the search for
wealth; but, so long as our old-fashioned institutions remain, like
old-fashioned females, dependent for their very existence on the bounty
of personal favor, devious methods must be employed for coaxing and
wheedling money out of those who control it--and therefore the truth.
I was a slender bride and had a fresh, becoming trousseau. He was a
heavy-jowled banker and had many millions. I was supposed to ply what
feminine arts I could command for the highly moral purpose of obtaining
his dollars, to be used in destroying his ideals.
Well, that was the first and last time I was ever so employed. Despite
the conscientious flattery of the others he gruntingly refused to give a
penny. And--who knows--perhaps I was in part responsible for the loss of
a million! A dreadful preface to my career as a college professor's
However, before pursuing my personal confessions, I must not overlook
the most common and comic characteristic of the college professor we all
know and love in fiction. I refer to his picturesque absent-mindedness.
I had almost forgotten that; possibly I have become absent-minded by
marriage too! Is not the dear old fellow always absent-minded on the
stage? Invariably and most deliriously! Just how he manages to remain on
the Faculty when absent-minded is never explained on the program; and it
often perplexes us who are behind the scenes.
I tell my husband that, in our case, I, as the dowdy and devoted wife,
am supposed to interrupt his dreams--they always have dreams--remove his
untidy dressing gown--they always wear dressing gowns--and dispatch him
to the classroom with a kiss and a coat; but how about that great and
growing proportion of his colleagues who, for reasons to be stated, are
wifeless and presumably helpless?
Being only a woman, I cannot explain how bachelors retain their
positions; but I shall venture to assert that no business in the
world--not even the army and navy--is conducted on a more ruthless and
inexorable schedule than the business of teaching.
My two brothers drift into their office at any time between nine and ten
in the morning and yet control a fairly successful commercial
enterprise; whereas, if my husband arrived at his eight-o'clock
classroom only one minute late there would be no class there to teach.
For it is an unwritten law among our engaging young friends the
undergraduates that when the "prof" is not on hand before the bell stops
ringing they can "cut"--thus avoiding what they were sent to college for
and achieving one of the pleasantest triumphs of a university course.
My confessions! Dear me! What have I, a college professor's wife, to
confess? At least three things:
1--That I love my husband so well that I wish I had never married
2--That I have been such a good wife that he does not know he ought
never to have had one.
3--That if I had to do it all over again I would do the same thing
all over again! This is indeed a confession, though whether it be of
weakness of will or strength of faith you may decide if you read the
The first time I saw the man who became my husband was at the Casino in
Newport. And what was a poor professor doing at Newport? He was not a
professor--he was a prince; a proud prince of the most royal realm of
sport. Carl, as some of you might recall if that were his real name, had
been the intercollegiate tennis champion a few years before, and now,
with the kings of the court, had come to try his luck in the annual
national tournament. He lasted until the finals this time and then was
put out. That was as high as he ever got in the game.
Alas for the romance of love at first sight! He paid not the slightest
attention to me, though he sat beside me for ten minutes; for, despite
his defeat, he was as enthusiastically absorbed in the runner-up and the
dashing defender of the title as--well, as the splendid sportsman I have
since found him to be in disappointments far more grim.
As for me, I fear I hardly noticed him either, except to remark that he
was very good-looking; for this was my first visit to Newport--the last
too--and the pageantry of wealth and fashion was bewilderingly
interesting to me. I was quite young then. I am older now. But such
unintellectual exhibitions might, I fancy, still interest me--a
shocking confession for a college professor's wife!
I did not see Carl again for two years, and then it was in another kind
of pageant, amid pomp and circumstance of such a different sort; and,
instead of white flannel trousers, he now wore a black silk gown. It had
large flowing sleeves and a hood of loud colors hanging down behind; and
he was blandly marching along in the academic procession at the
inaugural ceremonies of the new president of the university.
I wonder why it is that when the stronger sex wishes to appear
particularly dignified and impressive, as on the bench or in the pulpit,
it likes to don female attire! No matter whether suffragists or
antis--they all do it. Now some of these paraders seemed as embarrassed
by their skirts as the weaker sex would be without them; but the way
Carl wore his new honors and his new doctor's hood attracted my
attention and held it. He seemed quite aware of the ridiculous aspect of
an awkward squad of pedagogues paraded like chorus girls before an
audience invited to watch the display; but, also, he actually enjoyed
the comedy of it--and that is a distinction when you are an actor in the
comedy! His quietly derisive strut altogether fascinated me. "Hurrah!
Aren't we fine!" he seemed to say.
As the long, self-conscious procession passed where I sat, smiling and
unnoticed, he suddenly looked up. His veiled twinkle happened to meet my
gaze. It passed over me, instantly returned and rested on ray eyes for
almost a second. Such a wonderful second for little me!... Not a gleam
of recollection. He had quite forgotten that our names had once been
pronounced to each other; but in that flashing instant he recognized, as
I did, that we two knew each other better than anyone else in the whole
The nicest smile in the world said as plainly as words, and all for me
alone: "Hurrah! You see it too!" Then, with that deliciously derisive
strut, he passed on, while something within me said: "There he is!--at
last! He is the one for you!" And I glowed and was glad.
Carl informed me afterward that he had a similar sensation, and that all
through the long platitudinous exercises my face was a great solace to
"Whenever they became particularly tiresome," he said, "I looked at
you--and bore up."
I was not unaware that he was observing me; nor was I surprised when,
at the end of the exhausting ordeal, he broke through the crowd--with
oh, such dear impetuosity!--and asked my uncle to present him, while I,
trembling at his approach, looked in the other direction, for I felt the
crimson in my cheeks--I who had been out three seasons! Then I turned
and raised my eyes to his, and he, too, colored deeply as he took my
We saw no comedy in what followed.
There was plenty of comedy, only we were too romantic to see it. At the
time it seemed entirely tragic to me that my people, though of the sort
classified as cultured and refined, deploring the materialistic tendency
of the age, violently objected to my caring for this wonderful being,
who brilliantly embodied all they admired in baccalaureate sermons and
extolled in Sunday-school.
It was not despite but because of that very thing that they opposed the
match! If only he had not so ably curbed his materialistic tendencies
they would have been delighted with this well-bred young man, for his
was an even older family than ours, meaning one having money long enough
to breed contempt for making it. Instead of a fortune, however, merely a
tradition of _noblesse oblige_ had come down to him, like an unwieldy
heirloom. He had waved aside a promising opening in his cousin's
bond-house on leaving college and invested five important years, as well
as his small patrimony, in hard work at the leading universities abroad
in order to secure a thorough working capital for the worst-paid
profession in the world.
"If there were only some future in the teaching business!" as one of my
elder brothers said; "but I've looked into the proposition. Why, even a
full professor seldom gets more than four thousand--in most cases less.
And it will be years before your young man is a full professor."
"I can wait," I said.
"But a girl like you could never stand that kind of life. You aren't
fitted for it. You weren't brought up to be a poor man's wife."
"Plenty of tune to learn while waiting," I returned gayly enough, but
heartsick at the thought of the long wait.
Carl, however, quite agreed with my brothers and wanted impetuously to
start afresh in pursuit of the career in Wall Street he had forsworn,
willing and eager--the darling!--to throw away ambition, change his
inherited tastes, abandon his cultivated talents, and forget the five
years he had "squandered in riotous learning," as he put it!
However, I was not willing--for his sake. He would regret it later.
They always do. Besides, like Carl, I had certain unuttered ideals about
serving the world in those days. We still have. Only now we better
understand the world. Make no mistake about this. Men are just as noble
as they used to be. Plenty of them are willing to sacrifice
themselves--but not us. That is why so few of the sort most needed go in
for teaching and preaching in these so-called materialistic days.
What was the actual, material result of my lover's having taken
seriously the advice ladled out to him by college presidents and other
evil companions of his innocent youth, who had besought him not to seek
At the time we found each other he was twenty-seven years of age and had
just begun his career--an instructor in the economics department, with a
thousand-dollar salary. That is not why he was called an economist; but
can you blame my brothers for doing their best to break the
engagement?... I do not--now. It was not their fault if Carl actually
practiced what they merely preached. Should Carl be blamed? No; for he
seriously intended never to marry at all--until he met me. Should I be
blamed? Possibly; but I did my best to break the engagement too--and
incidentally both our hearts--by going abroad and staying abroad until
Carl--bless him!--came over after me.
I am not blaming anybody. I am merely telling why so few men in
university work, or, for that matter, in most of the professions
nowadays, can support wives until after the natural mating time is past.
By that time their true mates have usually wed other men--men who can
support them--not the men they really love, but the men they tell
themselves they love! For, if marriage is woman's only true career, it
is hardly true to one's family or oneself not to follow it before it is
too late--especially when denied training for any other--even though she
may be equally lacking in practical training for the only career open to
This sounds like a confession of personal failure due to the typical
unpreparedness for marriage of the modern American girl. I do not think
anyone could call our marriage a personal failure, though socially it
may be. During the long period of our engagement I became almost as well
prepared for my lifework as Carl was for his. Instead of just waiting in
sweet, sighing idleness I took courses in domestic science, studied
dietetics, mastered double-entry and learned to sew. I also began
reading up on economics. The latter amused the family, for they thought
the higher education of women quite unwomanly and had refused to let me
go to college.
It amused Carl too, until I convinced him that I was really interested
in the subject, not just in him; then he began sending me boxes of books
instead of boxes of candy, which made the family laugh and call me
strong-minded. I did not care what they called me. I was too busy making
up for the time and money wasted on my disadvantageous advantages, which
may have made me more attractive to men, but had not fitted me to be the
wife of any man, rich or poor.
All that my accomplishments and those of my sisters actually
accomplished, as I see it now, was to kill my dear father; for, though
he made a large income as a lawyer, he had an even larger family and
died a poor man, like so many prominent members of the bar.
I shall not dwell on the ordeal of a long engagement. It is often made
to sound romantic in fiction, but in realistic life such an unnatural
relationship is a refined atrocity--often an injurious one--except to
pseudo-human beings so unreal and unromantic that they should never be
married or engaged at all. I nearly died; and as for Carl--well,
unrequited affection may be good for some men, but requited affection in
such circumstances cannot be good for any man--if you grant that
A high-strung, ambitious fellow like Carl needed no incentive to make
him work hard or to keep him out of mischief, any more than he needed a
prize to make him do his best at tennis or keep him from cheating in the
score. What an ignoble view of these matters most good people accept! In
point of fact he had been able to do more work and to play better tennis
before receiving this long handicap--in short, would have been in a
position to marry sooner if he had not been engaged to marry! This may
sound strange, but that is merely because the truth is so seldom told
about anything that concerns the most important relationship in life.
Nevertheless, despite what he was pleased to call his inspiration, he
won his assistant professorship at an earlier age than the average, and
we were married on fifteen hundred a year.
Oh, what a happy year! I am bound to say the family were very nice about
it. Everyone was nice about it. And when we came back from our wedding
journey the other professors' wives overwhelmed me with kindness and
with calls--and with teas and dinners and receptions in our honor. Carl
had been a very popular bachelor and his friends were pleased to treat
me quite as if I were worthy of him. This was generous, but disquieting.
I was afraid they would soon see through me and pity poor Carl.
I had supposed, like most outsiders, that the women of a university town
would be dreadfully intellectual and modern--and I was rather in awe of
them at first, being aware of my own magnificent limitations; but, for
the most part, these charming new friends of mine, especially the
wealthier members of the set I was thrown with, seemed guilelessly
ignorant in respect of the interesting period of civilization in which
they happened to live--almost as ignorant as I was and as most "nice
people" are everywhere.
Books sufficiently old, art sufficiently classic, views sufficiently
venerable to be respectable--these interested them, as did foreign
travel and modern languages; but ideas that were modern could not be
nice because they were new, though they might be nice in time--after
they became stale. College culture, I soon discovered, does not care
about what is happening to the world, but what used to happen to it.
"You see, my dear," Carl explained, with that quiet, casual manner so
puzzling to pious devotees of "cultureine"--and even to me at first,
though I adored and soon adopted it! "--universities don't lead
thought--they follow it. In Europe institutions of learning may
be--indeed, they frequently are--hotbeds of radicalism; in America our
colleges are merely featherbeds for conservatism to die in respectably."
Then he added: "But what could you expect? You see, we are still
intellectually _nouveaux_ over here, and therefore self-consciously
correct and imitative, like the _nouveaux riches_. So long as you have a
broad _a_ you need never worry about a narrow mind."
As for the men, I had pictured the privilege of sitting at their feet
and learning many interesting things about the universe. Perhaps they
were too tired to have their feet encumbered by ignorant young women;
for when I ventured to ask questions about their subject their answer
was--not always--but in so many cases a solemn owllike "yes-and-no" that
I soon learned my place. They did not expect or want a woman to know
anything and preferred light banter and persiflage. I like that, too,
when it is well done; but I was accustomed to men who did it better.
I preferred the society of their wives. I do not expect any member of
the complacent sex to believe this statement--unless I add that the men
did not fancy my society, which would not be strictly true; but, even if
not so intellectual as I had feared, the women of our town were far more
charming than I had hoped, and when you cannot have both cleverness and
kindness the latter makes a more agreeable atmosphere for a permanent
home. I still consider them the loveliest women in the world.
In short my only regret about being married was that we had wasted so
much of the glory of youth apart. Youth is the time for love, but not
for marriage! Some of our friends among the instructors marry on a
thousand a year, even in these days of the high cost of living; and I
should have been so willing to live as certain of them do--renting
lodgings from a respectable artisan's wife and doing my own cooking on
her stove after she had done hers.
Carl gave me no encouragement, however! Perhaps it was just as well; for
when first engaged I did not know how to cook, though I was a good
dancer and could play Liszt's Polonaise in E flat with but few mistakes.
As it turned out we began our wedded life quite luxuriously. We had a
whole house to ourselves--and sometimes even a maid! In those days there
were no flats in our town and certain small but shrewd local capitalists
had built rows of tiny frame dwellings which they leased to assistant
professors, assistant plumbers, and other respectable people of the same
financial status, at rates which enabled them--the owners, not the
tenants--to support charity and religion.
They were all alike--I refer to the houses now, not to all landlords
necessarily--with a steep stoop in front and a drying yard for Monday
mornings in the rear, the kind you see on the factory edges of great
cities--except that ours were cleaner and were occupied by nicer people.
One of our next-door neighbors was a rising young butcher with his bride
and the house on the other side of us was occupied by a postman, his
progeny, and the piercing notes of his whistle--presumably a cast-off
one--on which all of his numerous children, irrespective of sex or age,
were ambitiously learning their father's calling, as was made clear
through the thin dividing wall, which supplied visual privacy but did
not prevent our knowing when they took their baths or in what terms they
objected to doing so. It became a matter of interesting speculation to
us what Willie would say the next Saturday night; and if we had
quarreled they, in turn, could have--and would have--told what it was
"Not every economist," Carl remarked whimsically, "can learn at first
hand how the proletariat lives."
I, too, was learning at first hand much about my own profession. My
original research in domestic science was sound in theory, but I soon
discovered that my dietetic program was too expensive in practice.
Instead of good cuts of beef I had to select second or third quality
from the rising young butcher, who, by the way, has since risen to the
dignity of a touring car. Instead of poultry we had pork, for this was
before pork also rose.
My courses in bookkeeping, however, proved quite practical; and I may
say that I was a good purchasing agent and general manager from the
beginning of our partnership, instead of becoming one later through
bitter experience, like so many young wives brought up to be ladies, not
Frequently I had a maid, commonly called along our row the "gurrul"--and
quite frequently I had none; for we could afford only young beginners,
who, as soon as I had trained them well, left me for other mistresses
who could afford to pay them well.
"Oh, we should not accuse the poor creatures of ingratitude," I told
Carl one day. "Not every economist can learn at first hand the law of
supply and demand."
If, however, as my fashionable aunt in town remarked, we were
picturesquely impecunious--which, to that soft lady, probably meant
that, we had to worry along without motor cars--we were just as
desperately happy as we were poor; for we had each other at least. Every
other deprivation seemed comparatively easy or amusing.
Nor were we the only ones who had each other--and therefore poverty.
Scholarship meant sacrifice, but all agreed that it was the ideal life.
To be sure, some members of the Faculty--or their wives--had independent
means and could better afford the ideal life. They were considered noble
for choosing it. Some of the alumni who attended the great games and the
graduating exercises were enormously wealthy, and gave the interest of
their incomes--sometimes a whole handful of bonds at a time--to the
support of the ideal life.
Was there any law compelling them to give their money to their Alma
Mater? No--just as there was none compelling men like Carl to give their
lives and sacrifice their wives. These men of wealth made even greater
sacrifices. They could have kept in comfort a dozen wives apiece--modest
ones--on what they voluntarily preferred to turn over to the dear old
college. Professors, being impractical and visionary, cannot always see
these things in their true proportions.
We, moreover, in return for our interest in education, did we not
shamelessly accept monthly checks from the university treasurer's
office? It was quite materialistic in us. Whereas these disinterested
donors, instead of receiving checks, gave them, which is more blessed.
And were they not checks of a denomination far larger than those we
selfishly cashed for ourselves? Invariably. Therefore our princely
benefactors were regarded not only as nobler but as the Nobility.
Indeed, the social stratification of my new home, where the excellent
principles of high thinking and plain living were highly recommended for
all who could not reverse the precept, struck me, a neophyte, as for all
the world like that of a cathedral town in England, except that these
visiting patrons of religion and learning were treated with a reverence
and respect found only in America. Surely it must have amused them, had
they not been so used to it; for they were quite the simplest, kindest,
sweetest overrich people I had ever met in my own country--and they
often took pains to tell us broad-mindedly that there were better things
than money. Their tactful attempts to hide their awful affluence were
quite appealing--occasionally rather comic. Like similarly conscious
efforts to cover evident indigence, it was so palpable and so
"There, there!" I always wanted to say--until I, too, became accustomed
to it. "It's all right. You can't help it."
It was dear of them all the same, however, and I would not seem
ungrateful for their kind consideration. After all, how different from
the purse-proud arrogance of wealth seen in our best--selling--fiction,
though seldom elsewhere.
For the most part they were true gentlefolk, with the low voices and
simple manners of several generations of breeding; and I liked them, for
the most part, very much--especially certain old friends of our parents,
who, I learned later, were willing to show their true friendship in more
ways than Carl and I could permit.
One is frequently informed that the great compensation for underpaying
the college professor is in the leisure to live--_otium cum dignitate_
as returning old grads call it when they can remember their Latin,
though as most of them cannot they call it a snap.
Carl, by the way, happened to be the secretary of his class, and his
popularity with dear old classmates became a nuisance in our tiny home.
I remember one well-known bachelor of arts who answered to the name of
Spud, a rather vulgar little man. Comfortably seated in Carl's study one
morning, with a cigar in his mouth, Spud began:
"My, what a snap! A couple of hours' work a day and three solid months'
vacation! Why, just see, here you are loafing early in the morning! You
ought to come up to the city! Humph! I'd show you what real work means."
Now my husband had been writing until two o'clock the night before, so
that he had not yet made preparation for his next hour. It was so early
indeed that I had not yet made the beds. Besides, I had heard all about
our snap before and it was getting on my nerves.
"Carl would enjoy nothing better than seeing you work," I put in when
the dear classmate finished; "but unfortunately he cannot spare the
Spud saw the point and left; but Carl, instead of giving me the thanks I
deserved, gave me the first scolding of our married life! Now isn't that
just like a husband?
Of course it can be proved by the annual catalogue that the average
member of the Faculty has only about twelve or fourteen hours of
classroom work a week--the worst-paid instructor more; the highest-paid
professor less. What a university teacher gives to his students in the
classroom, however, is or ought to be but a rendering of what he
acquires outside, as when my distinguished father tried one of his
well-prepared cases in court. Every new class, moreover, is a different
proposition, as I once heard my brother say of his customers.
That is where the art of teaching comes in and where Carl excelled. He
could make even the "dismal science," as Carlyle called economics,
interesting, as was proved by the large numbers of men who elected his
courses, despite the fact that he made them work hard to pass. Nor does
this take into account original research and the writing of books like
Carl's scholarly work on The History of Property, on which he had been
slaving for three solid summers and hundreds of nights during termtime;
not to speak of attending committee meetings constantly, and the furnace
even more constantly. The latter, like making beds, is not mentioned in
the official catalogue. I suppose such details would not become one's
As in every other occupation, some members of the Faculty do as little
work as the law requires; but most of them are an extremely busy lot,
even though they may, when it suits their schedule better, take exercise
in the morning instead of the afternoon--an astonishing state of affairs
that always scandalizes the so-called tired business man.
As for Carl, I was seeing so little of him except at mealtimes that I
became rather piqued at first, being a bride. I felt sure he did not
love me any more!
"Do you really think you have a right to devote so much time to outside
work?" I asked one evening when I was washing the dishes and he was
starting off for the university library to write on his great book.--It
was the indirect womanly method of saying: "Oh, please devote just a
little more time to me!"--"You ought to rest and be fresh for your
classroom work," I added.
Being a man he did not see it.
"The way to advance in the teaching profession," he answered, with his
veiled twinkle, "is to neglect it. It doesn't matter how poorly you
teach, so long as you write dull books for other professors to read.
That's why it is called scholarship--because you slight your scholars."
"Oh, I'm sick of all this talk about scholarship!" I cried. "What does
it mean anyway?"
"Scholarship, my dear," said Carl, "means finding out all there is to
know about something nobody else cares about, and then telling it in
such a way that nobody else can find out. If you are understood you are
popular; if you are popular you are no scholar. And if you're no
scholar, how can you become a full professor? Now, my child, it is all
clear to you."
And, dismissing me and the subject with a good-night kiss, he brushed
his last year's hat and hurried off, taking the latchkey.
So much for _otium_.
"But where does the dignity come in?" I asked Carl one day when he was
sharpening his lawnmower and thus neglecting his lawn tennis; for, like
a Freshman, I still had much to learn about quaint old college customs.
"Why, in being called p'fessor by the tradesmen," said Carl. "Also in
renting a doctor's hood for academic pee-rades at three dollars a
pee-rade, instead of buying a new hat for the rest of the year. Great
He chuckled and began to cut the grass furiously, reminding me of a
thoroughbred hunter I once saw harnessed to a plow.
"P'fessors of pugilism and dancing," he went on gravely, "haven't a bit
more dignity than we have. They merely have more money. Just think!
There isn't a butcher or grocer in this town who doesn't doff his hat to
me when he whizzes by in his motor--even those whose bills I haven't
paid. It's great to have dignity. I don't believe there's another place
in the world where he who rides makes obeisance to him who walks. Much
better than getting as high wages as a trustee's chauffeur! A salary is
so much more dignified than wages."
He stopped to mop his brow, looking perfectly dignified.
"And yet," he added, egged on by my laughter, for I always loved his
quiet irony--it was never directed at individuals, but at the ideas and
traditions they blandly and blindly followed--
"And yet carping critics of the greatest nation on earth try to make out
that art and intellectuality are not properly recognized in the States.
Pessimists! Look at our picture galleries, filled with old masters from
abroad! Think how that helps American artists! Look at our colleges,
crowded with buildings more costly than Oxford's! Think how that
encourages American teachers! Simply because an occasional foreign
professor gets higher pay--bah! There are better things than money. For
And he bent to his mower again, with much the same derisively dignified
strut as on that memorable day long ago when I came and saw and was
conquered by it--only then he wore black silk sleeves and now white
And so much for dignity.
I soon saw that if I were to be a help and not a hindrance to the man I
loved I should have to depart from what I had been carefully trained to
regard as woman's only true sphere. Do not be alarmed! I had no thought
of leaving home or husband. It is simply that the home, in the
industrial sense, is leaving the house--seventy-five per cent of it
social scientists say, has gone already--so that nowadays a wife must go
out after it or else find some new-fashioned productive substitute if
she really intends to be an old-fashioned helpmate to her husband.
It was not a feminist theory but a financial condition that confronted
us. My done-over trousseau would not last forever, nor would Carl's
present intellectual wardrobe, which was becoming threadbare. Travel
abroad and foreign study are just as necessary for an American scholar
as foreign buying is for an American dealer in trousseaus.
I thought of many plans; but in a college town a woman's opportunities
are so limited. We are not paid enough to be ladies, though we are
required to dress and act like them--do not forget that point. And yet,
when willing to stop being a lady, what could one do?
Finally I thought of dropping entirely out of the social, religious and
charitable activities of the town, investing in a typewriter and
subscribing to a correspondence-school course in stenography. I could at
least help Carl prepare his lectures and relieve him of the burden of
letter writing, thus giving him more time for book reviewing and other
potboiling jobs, which were not only delaying his own book but making
him burn the candle at both ends in the strenuous effort to make both
I knew Carl would object, but I had not expected such an outburst of
profane rage as followed my announcement. The poor boy was dreadfully
tired, and for months, like the thoroughbred he was, he had repressed
his true feelings under a quiet, quizzical smile.
"My heavens! What next?" he cried, jumping up and pacing the floor.
"Haven't you already given up everything you were accustomed to--every
innocent pleasure you deserve--every wholesome diversion you actually
need in this God-forsaken, monotonous hole? Haven't I already dragged
you down--you, a lovely, fine-grained, highly evolved woman--down to the
position of a servant in my house? And now, on top of all this--No, by
God! I won't have it! I tell you I won't have it!"
It may be a shocking confession, but I loved him for that wicked oath.
He looked so splendid--all fire and furious determination, as when he
used to rush up to the net in the deciding game of a tennis match, cool
and quick as lightning.
"You are right, Carl dear," I said, kissing his profane lips; for I had
learned long since never to argue with him. "I am too good to be a mere
household drudge. It's an economic waste of superior ability. That's why
I am going to be your secretary and save you time and money enough to
get and keep a competent maid."
"But I tell you--"
"I know, dear; but what are we going to do about it? We can't go on this
way. They've got us down--are we going to let them keep us down? Look
into the future! Look at poor old Professor Culberson. Look at half of
the older members of the Faculty! They have ceased to grow; their
usefulness is over; they are all gone to seed--because they hadn't the
courage or the cash to develop anything but their characters!"
Carl looked thoughtful. He had gained an idea for his book and, like a
true scholar, forgot for the moment our personal situation.
"Really, you know," he mused, "does it pay Society to reward its
individuals in inverse ratio to their usefulness?" He took out his
pocket notebook and wrote: "Society itself suffers for rewarding that
low order of cunning called business sense with the ultimate control of
all other useful talents." He closed his notebook and smiled.
"And yet they call the present economic order safe and sane! And all of
us who throw the searchlight of truth on it--dangerous theorists! Can
you beat it?"
"Well," I rejoined, not being a scholar, "there's nothing dangerous
about my theory. Instead of your stenographer becoming your wife, your
wife becomes your stenographer--far safer and saner than the usual
order. Men are much more apt to fall in love with lively little
typewriters than with fat, flabby wives."
Though it was merely to make a poor joke out of a not objectionable
necessity, my plan, as it turned out, was far wiser than I realized.
First, I surreptitiously card-catalogued the notes and references for
Carl's "epoch-making book," as one of the sweet, vague wives of the
Faculty always called her husband's volumes, which she never read. Then
I learned to take down his lectures, to look up data in the library, to
verify quotations, and even lent a hand in the book reviewing.
Soon I began to feel more than a mere consumer's interest--a producer's
interest--in Carl's work. And then a wonderful thing happened: My
husband began to see--just in time, I believe--that a wife could be more
than a passive and more or less desirable appendage to a man's life--an
active and intelligent partner in it. And he looked at me with a new and
wondering respect, which was rather amusing, but very dear.
He had made the astonishing discovery that his wife had a mind!
Years of piano practice had helped to make my fingers nimble for the
typewriter, and for this advantage I was duly grateful to the family's
old-fashioned ideals, though I fear they did not appreciate my
gratitude. Once, when visiting them during the holidays, I was
laughingly boasting, before some guests invited to meet me at luncheon,
about my part in the writing of Carl's History of Property, which had
been dedicated to me and was now making a sensation in the economic
world, though our guests in the social world had never heard of it.
Suddenly I saw a curious, uncomfortable look come over the faces of the
family. Then I stopped and remembered that nowadays wives--nice wives,
that is--are not supposed to be helpmates to their husbands except in
name; quite as spinsters no longer spin. They can help him spend. At
that they are truly better halves, but to help him earn is not nice. To
our guests it could mean only one thing--namely, that my husband could
not afford a secretary. Well, he could not. What of it?
For a moment I had the disquieting sensation of having paraded my
poverty--a form of vulgarity that Carl and I detest as heartily as a
display of wealth.
The family considerately informed me afterward, however, that they
thought me brave to sacrifice myself so cheerfully. Dear me! I was not
being brave. I was not being cheerful. I was being happy. There is no
sacrifice in working for the man you love. And if you can do it with
him--why, I conceitedly thought it quite a distinction. Few women have
the ability or enterprise to attain it!
One of my sisters who, like me, had failed to "marry well" valeted for
her husband; but somehow that seemed to be all right. For my part I
never could see why it is more womanly to do menial work for a man than
intellectual work with him. I have done both and ought to know.... Can
it be merely because the one is done strictly in the home or because no
one can see you do it? Or is it merely because it is unskilled labor?
It is all right for the superior sex to do skilled labor, but a true
womanly woman must do only unskilled labor, and a fine lady none at
all--so clothed as to prevent it and so displayed as to prove it, thus
advertising to the world that the man who pays for her can also pay for
secretaries and all sorts of expensive things. Is that the old idea?
If so I am afraid most college professors' wives should give up the
old-fashioned expensive pose of ladyhood and join the new womanhood!
Well, as it turned out, we were enabled to spend our sabbatical year
abroad--just in time to give Carl a new lease of life mentally and me
physically; for both of us were on the verge of breaking down before we
Such a wonderful year! Revisiting his old haunts; attending lectures
together in the German and French universities; working side by side in
the great libraries; and meeting the great men of his profession at
dinner! Then, between whiles, we had the best art and music thrown in!
Ah, those are the only real luxuries we miss and long for! Indeed, to
us, they are not really luxuries. Beauty is a necessity to some persons,
like exercise; though others can get along perfectly well without it
and, therefore, wonder why we cannot too.
Carl's book had already been discovered over there--that is perhaps the
only reason it was discovered later over here--and every one was so kind
about it. We felt quite important and used to wink at each other across
the table. "Our" book, Carl always called it, like a dear. His work was
my work now--his ambitions, my ambitions; not just emotionally or
inspirationally, but intellectually, collaboratively. And that made our
emotional interest in each other the keener and more satisfying. We had
fallen completely in love with each other. For the first time we two
were really one. Previously we had been merely pronounced so by a
clergyman who read it out of a book.
Oh, the glory of loving some one more than oneself! And oh, the
blessedness of toiling together for something greater and more important
than either! That is what makes it possible for the other thing to
endure--not merely for a few mad, glad years, followed by drab duty and
dull regret, but for a happy lifetime of useful vigor. That, and not
leisure or dignity, is the great compensation for the professorial life.
What a joy it was to me during that rosy-sweet early period of our union
to watch Carl, like a proud mother, as he grew and exfoliated--like a
plant that has been kept in a cellar and now in congenial soil and
sunshine is showing at last its full potentialities. Through me my boy
was attaining the full stature of a man; and I, his proud mate, was
jealously glad that even his dear dead mother could not have brought
that to pass.
His wit became less caustic; his manner more genial. People who once
irritated now interested him. Some who used to fear him now liked him.
And as for the undergraduates who had hero-worshiped this former tennis
champion, they now shyly turned to him for counsel and advice. He was
more of a man of the world than most of his colleagues and treated the
boys as though they were men of the world too--for instance, he never
referred to them as boys.
"I wouldn't be a damned fool if I were you," I once overheard him say to
a certain young man who was suffering from an attack of what Carl called
More than one he took in hand this way; and, though I used to call
it--to tease him--his man-to-man manner, I saw that it was effective. I,
too, grew fond of these frank, ingenuous youths. We used to have them at
our house when we could spare an evening--often when we could not.
None of this work, it may be mentioned, is referred to in the annual
catalogue or provided for in the annual budget; and yet it is often the
most vital and lasting service a teacher renders his students--especially
when their silly parents provide them with more pocket money than the
professor's entire income for the support of himself, his family, his
scholarship and his dignity.
"Your husband is not a professor," one of them confided shyly to
me--"he's a human being!"
After the success of our book we were called to another college--a full
professorship at three thousand a year! Carl loved his Alma Mater with a
passion I sometimes failed to understand; but he could not afford to
remain faithful to her forever on vague promises of future favor. He
went to the president and said so plainly, hating the indignity of it
and loathing the whole system that made such methods necessary.
The president would gladly have raised all the salaries if he had had
the means. He could not meet the competitor's price, but he begged Carl
to stay, offering the full title--meaning empty--of professor and a
minimum wage of twenty-five hundred dollars, with the promise of full
pay when the funds could be raised.
Now we had demonstrated that, even on the Faculty of an Eastern college,
two persons could live on fifteen hundred. Therefore, with twenty-five
hundred, we could not only exist but work efficiently. So we did not
have to go.
* * * * *
I look back on those days as the happiest period of our life together.
That is why I have lingered over them. Congenial work, bright prospects,
perfect health, the affection of friends, the respect of rivals--what
more could any woman want for her husband or herself?
Only one thing. And now that, too, was to be ours! However, with
children came trouble, for which--bless their little hearts!--they are
not responsible. Were we? I wonder! Had we a right to have children? Had
we a right not to have children? It has been estimated by a member of
the mathematical department that, at the present salary rate, each of
the college professors of America is entitled to just two-fifths of a
Does this pay? Should only the financially fit be allowed to survive--to
reproduce their species? Should or should not those who may be fittest
physically, intellectually and morally also be entitled to the privilege
and responsibility of taking their natural part in determining the
character of America's future generations, for the evolution of the race
and the glory of God?
* * * * *
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