The Wail Of A Wife by Bill Nye
Story type: Essay
“Ethel” has written a letter to me and asked for a printed reply. Leaving off the opening sentences, which I would not care to have fall into the hands of my wife, her note is about as follows:
“—- Vt., Feb. 28, 1885.
My Dear Sir:
[Tender part of letter omitted for obvious reasons.] Would it be asking too much for me to request a brief reply to one or two questions which many other married women as well as myself would like to have answered?
I have been married now for five years. To-day is the anniversary of my marriage. When I was single I was a teacher and supported myself in comfort. I had more pocket-money and dressed fully as well if not better than I do now. Why should girls who are abundantly able to earn their own livelihood struggle to become the slave of a husband and children, and tie themselves to a man when they might be free and happy?
I think too much is said by the men in a light and flippant manner about the anxiety of young ladies to secure a home and a husband, and still they do deserve a part of it, as I feel that I do now for assuming a great burden when I was comparatively independent and comfortable.
Now, will you suggest any advice that you think would benefit the yet unmarried and self-supporting girls who are liable to make the same mistake that I did, and thus warn them in a manner that would be so much more universal in its range, and reach so many more people than I could if I should raise my voice? Do this and you will be gratefully remembered by
It would indeed be a tough, tough man who could ignore thy gentle plea, Ethel; tougher far than the pale, intellectual hired man who now addresses you in this private and underhanded manner, unknown to your husband. Please destroy this letter, Ethel, as soon as you see it in print, so that it will not fall into the hands of Mr. Ethel, for if it should, I am gone. If your husband were to run across this letter in the public press I could never look him in the eye again.
You say that you had more pocket-money before you were married than you have since, Ethel, and you regret your rash step. I am sorry to hear it. You also say that you wore better clothes when you were single than you do now. You are also pained over that. It seems that marriage with you has not paid any cash dividends. So that if you married Mr. Ethel as a financial venture, it was a mistake. You do not state how it has affected your husband. Perhaps he had more pocket-money and better clothes before he married than he has since. Sometimes two people do well in business by themselves, but when they go into partnership they bust higher than a kite, if you will allow me the free, English translation of a Roman expression which you might not fully understand if I should give it to you in the original Roman.
Lots of self-supporting young ladies have married and had to go very light on pin-money after that, and still they did not squeal, as you, dear Ethel. They did not marry for revenue only. They married for protection. (This is a little political bon mot which I thought of myself. Some of my best jokes this spring are jokes that I thought of myself.)
No, Ethel, if you married expecting to be a dormant partner during the day and then to go through Mr. Ethel’s pantaloons pocket at night and declare a dividend, of course life is full of bitter, bitter regret and disappointment. Perhaps it is also for Mr. Ethel. Anyhow, I can’t help feeling a pang of sympathy for him. You do not say that he is unkind or that he so far forgets himself as to wake you up in the morning with a harsh tone of voice and a yearling club. You do not say that he asks you for pocket-money, or, if so, whether you give it to him or not.
Of course I want to do what is right in the solemn warning business, so I will give notice to all simple young women who are now self-supporting and happy, that there is no statute requiring them to assume the burdens of wifehood and motherhood unless they prefer to do so. If they now have abundance of pin-money and new clothes, they may remain single if they wish without violating the laws of the land. This rule is also good when applied to young and self-supporting young men who wear good clothes and have funds in their pockets. No young man who is free, happy and independent, need invest his money in a family or carry a colicky child twenty-seven miles and two laps in one night unless he prefers it. But those who go into it with the right spirit, Ethel, do not regret it.
I would just as soon tell you, Ethel, if you will promise that it shall go no farther, that I do not wear as good clothes as I did before I was married. I don’t have to. My good clothes have accomplished what I got them for. I played them for all they were worth, and since I got married the idea of wearing clothes as a vocation has not occurred to me.
Please give my kind regards to Mr. Ethel, and tell him that although I do not know him personally, I cannot help feeling sorry for him.