7 MARCH 1885, Page 39


NOTHING could be a more striking proof of the advance which has taken place in the position of women during the last halfcentury than the appearance of this book. It consists of a series of essays written, with one or two exceptions, by women. The writers represent the various nations of Europe, including even Poland and Bohemia, and describe the position of women and the history of the efforts to improve it which have been or are being made in their respective countries. Such a book would have been an impossibility a few years ago. The only answer which the editor would have got to his applications for essays would bare been that which the Friend of Humanity in the Anti-Tacobin got from the needy knife-grinder, " Story ? God bless you, I have none to tell, Sir." The tale, if told, would have been a dull repetition of some chronicle of domestic drudgery or fashionable idleness. The history of woman's rights would simply have been a catalogue of woman's wrongs. In fact, except for a partial emancipation in France during the extreme Revolutionary period, the subjection of women to men, and the denial of independent civil or industrial rights, were universal throughout Europe. Probably there were then, owing to the action of marriage-settlements, more women of the English upper classes enjoying independent rights than those of any other nation; but even in England the legal doctrine of the subjection and seclusion of women was the rule. Now it is either abrogated or being vehemently attacked in every country from the Thames to the Tigris, and from Christiania to Cadiz. On the whole, it has been attacked with the greatest success in England. The passing of the Married Women's Property Act in 1832, and the overwhelming vote of the Convocation of the University of Oxford in favour of the admission of women to the ordinary examinations last year—the latter of which incidents is not noticed at all, and the former only in a note, although the book was only published near the end of the year—show that in the two great points of the right to property, and education, public opinion has finally decided in favour of the claims of women. But England is, unfortunately, not ahead all along the line. Notwithstanding the opening of the Postal and Telegraph services to women ; notwithstanding the recognition of women's intellectual powers in the long line of English literary geniuses, from Miss Austen to George Eliot ; notwithstanding Mrs. Somerville mathematical power and Miss Ormerod's scientific fame, some of the professions are still closed to women. It is a curious fact that the little Republic of Switzerland, the newly-created Kingdom of Italy, and even the semi-civilised Empire of Russia, were all ahead of England in this respect. The women who were till lately excluded from medical study and medical degrees in England took refuge in Zurich ; the University of Padua creates doctoresses of medicine now as in the Middle Ages ; while, oddly enough, in Russia there are two hundred and fifty female physicians, fiftytwo of them in St. Petersburg alone. The reason of this is curious, and shows how even the nipping wind of bureaucratic autocracy may sometimes blow good. The general position of women in Russia is, as might be expected, infinitely behind that of any other country in Europe. The pairia poteatas of ancient Rome is still in full force in Russia. The daughter, like the son, is still absolutely subject to the father's power. The son escapes, as in Rome, only by entering the service of the Emperor ; the daughter only by marriage. But the daughter on marriage merely transfers her allegiance, and falls in /imam yiri; she passes under the power of her husband, for "one person cannot reasonably be expected to satisfy two such unlimited powers as that of the husband and that of the parents." She may not marry without her parents' consent. When she does marry, nothing but Siberia, five years' absence, or "the husband's adultery, established by two witnesses present when the crime was committed," can release her. She can never leave the husband even for a visit to a friend for a single day without a pass or passport signed by him, which has to be sent to the police to be visded. "It depends entirely upon the husband to name the term for which the pass is good, and when it expires, the wife must return or get it renewed Among the workingclasses, the wife or daughter often obtain their pass only after paying a stipulated sum to the husband or father." Restitution of conjugal rights—abominable enough in England when made by decree of the Court, as it would have been until last year—in Russia took the form simply of arrest by the police, and the reconsignment of the unhappy woman to the dungeon of her domestic tyrant. Yet, curiously enough, this wretched slave was entitled to her own property, if she had any ; and could, as an owner, vote—not, indeed, in person, but through a male representative —for the Municipal Council. She can also, in certain cases, appeal to the Mir, or village community, against her husband; but as the Mir is male, it but rarely takes the woman's side. But the autocratic Government were in want of teachers for the new classical schools that Count Tolstoi wanted to introduce, and the War Department needed surgeons for the Army and Navy. In the dearth of other intellectual material, in 1867 the girls at school began to be taught Latin and Greek, to fit them to become teachers of those languages ; in 1878 women's classes were opened in St. Petersburg, and in 1882 nine hundred young women were undergoing this quasi-university education. About 1870 the Academy of Medicine, which was under the War Ministry, was thrown open to women, at first as midwives, but eventually as regular medical practitioners ; and no less than twenty women were employed as surgeons during the Turko-Russian War, while in 1882 the large number of two hundred and fifty were, as we have said, practising in Russia. Of late, under the guise of economy, a reaction has set in, and no more students are to be received ; but it is believed that the Municipality of St. Petersburg will come to the rescue, and that a Women's Medical College will also be established in Moscow. Whether, however, in its recent panic against knowledge, the Russian Government will let this scheme be carried out, is more than doubtful. Meanwhile, it appears that at the Universities of Geneva and Zurich the female students are principally Russians, and that the great majority of them study, not letters, but science and medicine. This fact is quite in opposition to the general notions entertained of women's aptitudes and powers, both in the States and in England. But that women have aptitude and power in those subjects is singularly shown by a recent competition for Fellowships in the University of France, of which M. Ernest Legouve reports:—" The papers of the scientific candidates were greatly superior to those of letters. This result contradicts a very general opinion, which I myself have strongly supported, that scientific studies, the abstract sciences, and mathematics, must hold a subordinate place in women's education, because they are incompatible with the nature of the female intellect. We have been mistaken." On the other hand, that women are not unfitted for literary education and work would appear from the curious question asked by the last Italian Educational Commission,—" Whence does it arise that in what concerns composition and style, girls' schools present an incontestable superiority ?" The truth appears to be that intellectually, during the period of life devoted to education, there is little if any difference between the capacities of the sexes. At all events, the equal necessity of developing what capacities women do possess, is being recognised in every country in Europe. In France, as is well-known, it has been settled that High Schools for Girls are to be established throughout the country on the same footing as for boys. In Denmark, women were admitted to the University of Copenhagen in 1875; but they are still excluded from intermediate schools, though these are supported by the State. In Norway, which composedly lags behind the rest of the Scandinavian nations, the University was thrown open to women in 1882. The same has been done even in Spain, though there they are given certificates only, not degrees. In Portugal, intermediate and higher education is denied to girls ; but primary instruction is given, though with a somewhat niggard hand, as it appears that for a quarter of a million women who can read and write, more than two millions can do neither. In Bohemia, as long ago as 1863, Prague opened a High School for Girls. In Austria, Lyceums for Girls do what the Gymnasia do for boys, though they are not admitted to the University of Vienna. Germany, with its autocratic Government, naturally lags behind. Girls are given primary instruction, but neither Municipality nor State will establish Secondary Schools for them, nor admit them to University training, except at Heidelberg and Leipsic, where they are not allowed to pass the examinations. But it is a hopeful sign that in Germany, where as a rule if the State does nothing, nothing is done, private enterprise, acting chiefly through a Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women, has come to the rescue, and started commercial, artistic, and workingschools for girls. As education must in these days precede employment, this educational progress all along the line is a hopeful sign.

Similar, though slighter, progress has taken place in regard to the ownership and the right to acquire ownership of property possessed by wives. The doctrine of the perpetual tutelage of women, inherited from the Roman law, and reintroduced into the greater part of Europe by the Code Napoleon, has been abrogated in Switzerland, in imitation of the Canton of Geneva, which never admitted it and was finally abolished in 1881. Consequently, in Switzerland women have even greater rights in regard to property than they possess in England, for England still holds to the antique injustice of the feudal law, and denies to daughters the right to rank with sons in the inheritance of land ; while it is only wives married since January 1st, 1883, who are entitled to their own property. In Denmark, an Act was passed in 1880 which gave women a similar limited right of property to those conferred in England in 1872. In 1874 Sweden, which had previously placed women on an equality with men in regard to inheritance, passed a similar limited Married Women's Property Act. In Norway, Bills for the same purpose are regularly defeated, but the practice of settlements is growing. In Russia, as we have seen, married women have long enjoyed the right to own property. The same is true of Bohemia ; and now in Austria generally women are on an equality with men. But in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, even in Holland and Germany, the Code Napoleon still prevails. Giving a pretended community of goods to husband and wife, it practically hands over the control to the husband. Even more emphatically than in England before 1882, because in these countries marriage-settlements are rare, the husband may say to the wife, " All that's yours is mine, and all that's mine's my own." A few slight modifications have been made of late in regard to the power of women to protect their share of the community of goods against spendthrift husbands, but practically the extreme rigour of the law prevails, and the property of married women is at the mercy of their husbands. The growing disposition, however, to educate and to employ women in industrial pursuits, checked for a time in Germany,—where the unjust spirit of the administration shows itself in refusing any longer to take women as post-office and railway and telegraph clerks,—must tend to raise and improve the position of women as regards property and person everywhere. The publication of this book may well help that progress. It shows every country how much it has to learn from others. If it shows others how much they have to learn from England in most respects, at the same time it shows England how much she may learn from others in other respects,—as, for instance, in the equality of women to men in respect of inheritance from France and Sweden, and in the equality in respect of guardianship of children from Italy. One thing at least is established by the present volume,—that, on the whole, taking into account the laws of property, the laws of marriage, and the laws of persons, and looking at their educational, industrial, and municipal status, the position of women in the various nations of Europe in the main varies with the civilisation and activity of the nation ; and it is no small matter of national pride that, on the whole, judged by this test, England stands at the head of Eurqe.