[Unsigned]. "A Lesson From France." Saturday Evening Post, 15 Aug. 1903, p. 12.

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[Unsigned]. "A Lesson From France." Saturday Evening Post, 15 Aug. 1903, p. 12.


women's roles


A Lesson from France

The American is ready enough to make any change in his habits of conduct, provided he originates it himself. But he willingly borrows no custom from foreigners. Now, there are many customs which he might borrow with profit.

Take the matter of a dot for his daughter, for example. The Frenchman, be he peer or laborer, as soon as a girl child is born to him begins to stint and save and scrape to lay aside a certain sum of her dower. When she is of a marriageable age it is there, ready to buy her a home or to enable some honest young fellow to marry her who otherwise could not do it. She goes into the marriage partnership with a certain happy sense of independence. She can help her husband to carry the load of the family. She can have something to lay by for the dot of her daughter, if she have one. If she does not marry, she is not a dead weight for life on her family. She has capital, she has the little income which commands comfort and respect from France to Patagonia.

That is the debt which the French father thinks he owes to his daughter. He pays it.

The American father, as a rule, whatever his position, works hard to give his woman child the best of everything which his money will buy. If he lives in a house and in a style which double his income will not pay for, it is usually for her sake. She has dresses, jewelry, accomplishments, pleasures which keep him on the verge of bankruptcy. He lays nothing aside. If she marry before the crash comes, nobody knows of the deception but her husband. But if the father dies, the girl’s life is ruined. 

Look in the Mint, in the Government offices, in the department stores, and you will find tens of thousands of delicate, refined women brought up in luxury, ignorant of any art or trade, and penniless except for the pittance which they can earn by hard labor.

The English and French woman, too, whatever her rank, is usually taught the ordinary forms of business. There are no shrewder traders than the bourgeoise women of Paris and Marseilles. They are helpmeets to their husbands behind the counter as in the home. One of them originated the methods and organized the forces of the greatest retail shop in the world, and all the successful shops in this country and the continent have borrowed her methods and her organization.[1] 

American girls are taught sciences and accomplishments galore. But how many of them know where to sign a check or how to settle an estate? This almost universal oversight in the education of girls is the more amusing as our worries boast that they now have taken all kinds of professions and trades out of the hands of men.

Very few American men in their secret souls believe that the market-place is the proper field for women. But if they choose to go into it, or if necessity drives them into it, why not qualify them for it?


[1] Maugerite Boucicaut (1816-1887) worked closely with her husband Aristide to create Le Bon Marché, the first department store in France and the model for Emile Zola’s (1840-1902) fictional department store in Au Bonheur des Dames (1883).


Alicia Mischa Renfroe


Updated 12/2022



Alicia Mischa Renfroe, “[Unsigned]. "A Lesson From France." Saturday Evening Post, 15 Aug. 1903, p. 12.,” Rebecca Harding Davis: Complete Works, accessed September 29, 2023, https://rebeccahardingdaviscompleteworks.com/items/show/241.

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