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Girls in Business

     Here is a bit of advice given by Miss Phelps in the St. Nicholas, to girls who expect to do something towards self-support:

     But girls, if you don't mean to make a thorough business of the occupation you have chosen, never, never, never begin to be occupied at all. Half-finished work will do for amateurs. It will never answer for professionals. The bracket you are sawing for a New Year's present can hang a little crooked on its screws, and you will be forgiven for the love's sake found therein by the dear hearts to which you offer it; but the trinket carved for sale in the Sorrento rooms must be cut as true as a rose-leaf. You can be a little shaky as to your German declensions in the Schiller-club, which you join so enthusiastically after leaving school, and no great harm ever come of it; but teach Schiller for a living, and for every dative case forgotten you are so much money out of pocket.

     People who pay for a thing demand thorough workmanship or none. To offer incomplete work for complete market price is to be either a cheat or a beggar. The terrible grinding laws of supply and demand pay and receive, give and get, give no quarter to shilly-shally labor. The excellence of your intentions is nothing to the point. The stress of your poverty has not the slightest connection with the case. An editor will never pay you for your poem because you wish to help your mother. No customer will buy her best bonnet or her wheat flour of you because you are unable to pay your rent. When you have entered the world of trade, you have entered a world where tenderness and charity and personal interest are foreign relations. Not "for friendship's sake," nor "for pity's sake," nor "for chivalry's sake," runs the great rallying cry of this great world -- but only "for value received."

     It is with sorrow and shame, but yet with hope and courage, that I write it - there is reason for the extensive complaint made by men that women do not work thoroughly. I am afraid that, till time and trouble shall have taught them better, they will not. Is it because they have never been trained? Is it because they expect to be married? That it is not in the least because they cannot, we know; for we know that some of the most magnificently accurate work in the world has been done by women.


This piece appeared in The Congregationalist, June 5, 1884, p. 192. in the For Young People section.  Probably, Miss Phelps is Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward (1844-1911), author of Dr. Zay, a novel about a woman doctor.
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