If any of you are breastfeeding moms, you know how challenging it can be to find tops for nursing. Sometimes it feels like the only options are either to never leave your room, or to wear baggy tee shirts all the time that you can pull up for access.
Fortunately, as breastfeeding becomes more widespread, there are more and more specially designed nursing tops made. They have various systems that give access without requiring you to pull your shirt up. A lot of them are really cute, too. Here’s a few links to lovely nursing tops you can buy.
This one comes if a wide variety of colors, is under $30, and has great reviews. I think it looks pretty nice too. (Click on the picture to go to Amazon and see what it looks like when being worn normally.)
This hoodie is great for if you want a more casual look. I like the charcoal gray here, but you can find other colors, too. It also has good reviews. Under $25.
I like the cute styling on this one, and it looks like access is very easy and fuss-free. Under $20.
Here’s one with a pattern if you’re more into patterns. It is a cool summery fabric. Under $25.
Now, as cool as all these tops are, you just had a baby, so there’s medical bills and other new expenses, and you probably can’t afford a whole new wardrobe, sadly.
But don’t worry. There’s still hope for you. You are not doomed to baggy tee-shirts for the next six months. There’s a quick easy way to turn any low enough v-neck shirt into a nursing top that will give you easy access.
This would be a perfect top to do this with. And isn’t it a lovely color? (Under $20)
Nursing Top Tutorial
Now, you could just wear this shirt and pull it down to give you access for your baby or your pump, but then half your chest would be bare, and I’m just not comfortable with that. (Besides, now that it’s definitely fall, it’s getting a bit chilly for low-necklines.)
Before I had my baby, I often wore shirts of this sort with a tank underneath to give a bit more coverage, but this became inconvenient when I started nursing. So here’s the super simple solution I came up with:
You will need:
A relatively tight, stretchy tee shirt with a neckline you like.
A pair of scissors
A safety pin, marker, or piece of chalk.
Step 1: Put on your shirt and mark two inches below your bust.
Step 2: Take it off, and cut the bottom half off where you marked it.
Step 3: Cut off the sleeves. Make sure to leave about half an inch of sleeve beyond the shoulder seam.
And that’s it! You could hem it, if you wanted to, but it’s not necessary as knit fabrics don’t fray and no one will ever know.
Here’s a couple pictures of what it looks like done. You’d never guess it was for nursing, and I can tell you from experience that it’s super easy to use.
Hope this helps you make your wardrobe more functional.
As a bonus of this project, you can make a cute little baby skirt from the part of your shirt you cut off. (I don’t usually put my daughter in black, but we had to go to a funeral.)
This is the third article in our series about feminine virtues. See the introduction here.
The proper role of woman has been the great social question of the last hundred and fifty years. In particular, what is appropriate for a married woman? She is said to have the duty to obey, to submit, to inspire, to respect, to give life, to make the home, to be interesting and charming, to communicate, to demand her rights. But many of these activities are difficult to reconcile to one another, if they are not downright contradictory. If she is a passive, submissive piece of furniture, how is she supposed to make the home, or inspire her spouse? If she is demanding her rights constantly, how is she supposed to be loving and respectful?
The answer is that you must break free from the false choice between submission and independence. The rational woman does not yield silently to her husband’s every whim, nor does she demand to control every aspect of his life or angrily resent anything she did not initiate. She instead builds a relationship of cooperation–and not a servile, pragmatic, or manipulative cooperation, but a cooperation founded on respect.
Respect: The Foundation for Cooperation
To respect someone is simply to recognize their worth as a human being. It is possibly the one most important predictor of success in any relationship. It is impossible to treat others well, to communicate with them properly, or to love them, if you are thinking of them as being less than yourself. Stated this way, it seems fairly obvious. But it is often lacking in relationships.
While all relationships require respect, there is a special kind of respect in the relationship between a husband and wife. The husband and wife are partners in the foundation of a family, a fantastic and unique institution in which new people sometimes come into existence and must be inducted into the mysteries of the world. While other institutions, like hospitals and fire departments, save lives, only a partnership between a man and a woman can create lives. Thus the family is the most important institution, the foundation of all other institutions, the institution that all others depend on for their existence.
If you were going to found a hospital, a fire department, or even a clothing company with a partner, you would certainly make sure that your partner was someone you respected. Mr. Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is a good example of this. He has such a high opinion of his company that he wants to ensure that each employee matches certain requirements. The person in charge of hiring people is supposed to ask himself three questions about new applicants, the first of which is, “Will you admire this person?” He wants to make sure that all his employees can respect each other, and thus cooperate at a higher level.
Cooperation: The Engine of Success
What would happen to a business venture that was missing the mutual admiration so important to Mr. Bezos, if the partners did not trust each other’s abilities? Clearly, there would be problems.
So the relationship between partners in a business venture needs to be one of respectful cooperation. If one partner always runs around behind the other’s back, spending money, making hiring decisions, and changing company policy without discussing it with the other, the company will quickly disintegrate.While they might cooperate for a time–perhaps they might defer to the largest shareholder, or the one with the biggest mouth—eventually, productivity-killing conflicts and a toxic work environment would undermine the company and it would fail.
A marriage will similarly fail if cooperation is missing. So, how can a woman practice cooperation in her marriage?
People form partnerships because one person has certain resources or talents that the other lacks, and together they make a good team. Perhaps one partner is good at coming up with new ideas for products, while the other is good at creating a business plan. Both are equally necessary for a successful business. A marriage should be similar. There will be a difference in the talents and resources of the husband and wife. Perhaps your husband is good at home repair and you are good at accounting. Both of these are important aspects of home life. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe you’re a DIY queen, and your husband is better at keeping track of money.
A cooperative wife, unlike a merely submissive one, will actively work with her husband on an equitable and mutually supportive division of labor. It may well happen that the woman will end up bearing the brunt of housework and childcare while the husband works at a job outside the home. When children are infants, this is almost definitely going to be the case. The feminine virtue of cooperation will help the woman to realize that this she is not “relegated to the home” or somehow less than her husband because of this division of labor. She will realize instead that she and her husband are working together at the most important work in the world, and that they are in partnership, each using their talents to contribute what they can.
The virtue of cooperation will also help her to objectively and respectfully discuss with her husband what the best division of labor will be. Will she do the accounting and shopping, or will he? Who will plan the family vacations? There is no right answer. There is only what is right for your family.
Other tasks must be done together if they are to be successful. Educating and disciplining children must always be done by both parents (if both are present) in order to succeed. Decision on these matters will also require the virtue of cooperation, which will allow the wife to discuss options with her husband. Her respect for him and his respect for her will allow them to value each other’s insights and opinions, and to come to a decision they can both agree with.
The virtue of cooperation will further help the woman in living with the decision that has been made in this way. If she finds it does not work, rather than changing it unilaterally, she will work together with her husband to find a new solution.
The woman who possesses the virtue of cooperation will be far more effective in building a marriage than either a merely submissive woman who adds little of her own ideas and talents to the relationship, or an aggressive woman who refuses to allow anyone else to contribute.
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It’s getting to be the season where some of your neighbor’s yards have probably sprouted zombie graveyards, skeletons, ghosts, cauldrons, or other potentially frightening things. Sometimes you see something really cool, like one of my neighbors this year has a homemade spider web in their tree. I’m not sure how they did it, but it’s pretty cool. And then there’s the other yards, where there’s just too much going on… Zombies, witches, ghosts, spiders, bats scary pumpkins… Sometimes less really is more.
Now, there are a lot of different attitudes toward Halloween. When I was a kid my parents weren’t fans of the holiday, so we would turn off all the lights and pretend we weren’t home so the kids wouldn’t stop and ask for candy. (I remember once a kid did stop, and my parents did actually give him candy, so it wasn’t that they were mean or anything.)
This last year, I and my husband actually wanted to hand out candy because we thought we might meet the neighborhood kids that way, but all they would say was “trick-or-treat” and be on their way. But that’s another story.
Anyway, while there’s a lot of ideas about Halloween, as a woman with a sense of beauty among her many fabulous qualities, have you ever wondered if there were any alternatives to horror movies, haunted houses, and zombies in the yard for late October enjoyment?
Catholics have had “All Saints parties” for decades, where the kids get to dress up as saints, and yes, get candy… but that’s just one option. (By the way, if you think dressing as saints sounds boring, you should see the Saint George costumes. You get armor and a sword.)
Here’s a few alternative fun and maybe even scary things to do around this season, which will actually help you develop your skills and virtues.
Try Out an Escape Room
Escape rooms have become very popular lately. If you’ve never done one, the basic idea is that you, and a group of friends get locked in a room, usually for an hour, and you have to get out before the timer goes off. Escaping from the room is quite challenging though, as there are puzzles and riddles and clues that you have to sort out to figure out how to unlock the door. There is a story to go with it, to explain why you are there and to give you a little background and provides the theme of the room and clues.
While escape rooms can sometimes be pricey, costing perhaps the same amount as a trip to an amusement park, they are a lot of fun. It’s also great exercise in cooperation, creativity, and tenacity. It can be a good bonding experience to do with friends or family, and is a great choice for bachelorette parties.
Host a Murder Mystery Party
There are murder mystery kits available either for free download, or in a boxed set. They can be for as few as 7 people or as many as 200.
There are a few different kinds of murder parties. Some, like this one, are played over dinner in rounds, and others are fully interactive, but all of them involve playing parts, asking questions, and trying to solve the crime. In the interactive versions, you have to wander around and find people and solve problems, all while either trying to discover the murderer, or if you are the murderer, trying to conceal your identity. This website offers some family friendly options, has practical suggestions to help you run them, and explains how they work.
If you’re really ambitious you could even write your own, but you’d probably want to try at least one out first.
Decorate Your House
There are classy ways to decorate your house. Just putting pumpkins on the doorstep is always a classy (and easy) way of bringing a little color to your yard. Some people like to put a collection of pumpkins and orange mums for a very elegant and low effort Halloween look.
Fall leaf wreaths are also elegant. You can make a wreath from a coat hanger using fall leaf decorations from a craft store, or dollar tree, or a garland like this if you want to make a couple. It would be a great craft to do with kids too. You can also use the garland over your front door for a more impressive look.
Host a Costume Party
Dressing up is always fun, and with a little creativity you can usually throw a costume together for just a few dollars, so it doesn’t have to be a very expensive activity. Your party can be all girls, couples, or random. You can even do it with just family, and see how creative everyone can get with what’s already laying around in the house. As a kid I spent many happy hours with family members writing, directing, and performing skits, and designing and constructing the costumes for them. I remember cutting up the fake fur lining from an old coat, and turning it into a wolf mask for some skit we were performing.
My cousin and I hosted costume party several years later, and we didn’t have enough drinks, so we and a few friends went to the grocery store. The other customers were a bit surprised to see Zorro and his wife, a Norse princess, a lady from the Civil War era, and Maria Von Trapp all wandering the aisles together. If you don’t want to see zombies or other sickening creatures at your party, it is simple enough mention on the invitation that costumes must not be gory or gross.
Making and wearing costumes will help you and your children develop virtues like patience, resourcefulness, and social confidence. Working on costumes as a family or team effort will also help develop skills like cooperation and problem-solving.
You hear a lot about minimalism these days. But there seems to be a lot of confusion about what it is. According to Merriam Webster it is “a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.” Wikipedia says that “In visual arts, music, and other mediums, minimalism is an art movement that began in post–World War II Western art, most strongly with American visual arts in the 1960s and early 1970s.” But when most people talk about it nowadays, they have no intention of referring to a school of art. Minimalism is a lifestyle choice. But even here there is confusion. What kind of minimalism are you talking about?
Generally speaking, minimalism means living with less, but as it turns out, there are a lot of ways of doing this, and a lot of different definitions of what “less” is, and why living with less is something you would want to do. It is a choice that can be made for dozens of reasons. Some people become minimalists because they like the way it looks. Some live with less because they want to be able to move easily. Some just find that clutter irritates them and that having less stuff can contribute to productivity or happiness.
Apartment Therapy describes 6 kinds of minimalism in an entertaining, but rather tongue-in-cheek article. But I think that we can narrow it down to three main types, each based on a different principle of action. Then we can determine if this kind of minimalism is for you, and if it is consistent with a full, happy, human life.
The Extreme Minimalist:
The extreme minimalist takes as her mantra: “Less is more!” And tries to live up to it. Anything that is not immediately useful is thrown away. Often this kind of minimalist chooses an arbitrary number, like 100, and decides to have no more than that many things. Her clothes are chosen for their versatility rather than any other feature. She has a “capsule wardrobe.” Her cooking is done with the smallest possible number of utensils. She has as little furniture as she can get by with.
Her house is certainly not cluttered, she probably never loses her keys—there’s nothing for them to hide behind—but is it practical?
A full human life, by nearly any definition, includes relationships of various kinds with other people. A complete, happy, successful human will generally have a whole collection of ties to other people. Most adults get married, and have an extremely intimate relationship with their spouses. But it is generally agreed by psychologists, social sciences, and common sense, that you need more friends than just your spouse. Now one of the most basic acts of friendship is to invite people over for dinner or for some other occasion. If you only have 100 things, it is unlikely that within that number you have budgeted for extra plates, forks and chairs, not to mention cups, napkins, etc. You could, I suppose, get paper plates for the occasion and then throw them away, but is this really the best option?
Also, back to the part about most adults being married. If you are married, then you will probably have children. Imagine trying to raise a child without extra changes of clothes, for one thing. Anyone who has ever dealt with a baby knows that they make laundry at a truly astonishing rate. Your capsule wardrobe would probably not be up to the strain, and neither would the baby’s.
Also, besides friends, another excellent way to enrich your life is to have a hobby. Hobbies that require hand-eye coordination and mental activity (that is to say, just about any hobby that isn’t Netflix, TV, or Youtube) can protect people from Alzheimer’s, not to mention excessive boredom. But, sadly, hobbies require stuff. I sew, and this means that I have a few boxes of fabric, a bunch of thread, pins, needles, a sewing machine, and a fascinating button collection. Gardening requires shovels and hoes and trowels, not to mention seeds etc.
Extreme minimalism therefore is only practical for a single person living alone with no friends or hobbies. Which is probably not the person you want to be.
The Aesthetic Minimalist
This is the kind of “minimalism” that you see advertised in the really expensive catalogs. Minimalism in this sense, is mostly a look. You’ve all seen it. Everything is gray or white, and simple geometric shapes. It is clean and almost sterile in appearance. Furniture is chosen for its simplicity rather than for its comfort or beauty. Wall art is generally abstract and simple, like a black and white photo of a dew drop, or a few lines or dots on a white background in a white frame, like this overpriced item at Athropologie. Decorations are simple and abstract as well.
Your house looks like a magazine cover, but is it sustainable?
What is your home for? This is the first question you need to ask before you choose a system for decorating, organizing, or furnishing your home. If your home is supposed to be a display piece, or a background for your instagram life, then this type of minimalism is definitely for you.
But if your home is supposed to serve some other purpose, like being a stimulating and practical environment for raising children, or a welcoming place to invite friends for fun gatherings? Well, let’s think about it.
The first thing that everyone knows about small children is that they make messes. Now having fewer toys is actually good for your children, so the toy mess might be manageable, and you might be able to put all the toys in a perfect storage cube that would effectively hide them out of sight. (You do have to live with the possibility that your child may prefer playing with the storage cube. My baby’s favorite toy seems to be the wastebasket.) But what about your older children and their hobbies? Will they fit in with your décor? Will your white carpet or your pale gray sofa withstand the efforts of marker-wielding toddlers? Or will your magazine-perfect home become a war zone where you side with your house against your children?
So much for practicality. What about other factors? Children need beauty and order and mental stimulation. Children’s books with attractive pictures and such things are good for your children’s development, and while your baby books can probably also go in a storage cube, what about their hobbies when they get older? A home that encourages independent pursuits and hobbies will probably not be ready for a photo-shoot. And that’s okay.
And lastly, even if you don’t have kids with hobbies or dirty diapers, does having an Instagram-ready house actually make you happy? Or does it put you right back in the mainstream of consumerism? Despite the counter-cultural vibe of aesthetic minimalism, it can be just another way of being consumerist and keeping up with the Joneses, or maybe even the Kardashians. If minimalism, rather than liberating you, becomes another source of stress and conflict in your life, then you might want to try something else.
The Practical Minimalist
Now, you are probably getting the idea from all this that I think minimalism is stupid. But I am in favor of a less consumerist way of living, and I really don’t like clutter. I even like Marie Kondo, who a lot of people love to make fun of. But I think there is a balance, and that an anti-consumerist lifestyle should be practical, fun, stimulating, and inexpensive too.
So what would practical minimalism look like?
Well, let’s focus on the practical first. You want a home that’s easy to care for, so that you can spend your time doing things like spending time with friends, reading books to your small children, or engaging in hobbies instead of having to do housework all the time. Not that housework can’t be fulfilling or enjoyable, but there are probably more worthwhile things to do than dusting a fancy collection of glass figurines.
So, to be practical, you wouldn’t have sixteen shelves full of delicate glass figurines. Walls are nice, they don’t need to be hidden behind stuff. Or if you really have to hide your walls, try flat wall art, wall hangings, like this awesome one, or anything that’s not hard to clean. This will also have the benefit of making your home feel less cluttered.
Next, if you have things that are useful, but not attractive, or hard to keep neat, like certain kinds of kitchen tools, or computer accessories, you can put them in boxes or cabinets that organize and conceal them. A lot of craft stores have great sales on pretty storage boxes once or twice a year. This is a great time to stock up. Covering these types of things makes your house feel less cluttered and makes it easier to keep it clean.
Kid’s toys should have places too. A storage cube is a great idea, but you can do other things too. (I just covered a diaper box in white copy paper and colored tape the other day because I needed a box for my baby’s toys and I didn’t want to spend money.) The great thing about having a toy box is that you can make sure your kids’ toy collection doesn’t get out of hand by making sure that it can fit in the box. If it gets too big, you can start weeding out. Then your kids won’t feel overwhelmed by having to clean up their toys, and they will actually be able to play with and appreciate the ones they have. Psychologist John Rosemond has a fantastic chapter on kids’ toys in his Six Point Plan for Raising Happy Healthy Children, (which I highly recommend).
Now for the minimalist part: The practical minimalist makes it a rule not to buy anything that isn’t necessary, definitely going to be used within a reasonable time frame, or so beautiful (decorative items) informative or interesting (books etc) that it’s worth the money, time and space it will require. She also tries to find items that serve multiple purposes, like storage ottomans, and she tries to prioritize the function of the items she buys. For instance, sofas are for lounging comfortably, so they should be comfortable, and of a color and material that holds up under wear and use. Following these simple rules will make it easier to resist ads for the latest gadget, and incidentally, stay within your budget. It should also prevent the buildup of clutter.
This simplicity has many benefits. It should streamline housework, and I’m a big fan of anything that streamlines housework. It should minimize conflict, as the furniture and other items are meant to be used, not gazed at or photographed, and there will be fewer fragile items laying around to break. And it should liberate the minds and hearts of the people in the home, allowing them to seek beauty, peace and fulfillment without the pressure of having to conform to some advertising ideal.
As the temperatures start to go down, it’s time to get some of those warmer clothes. Here’s some cute warm neutrals to keep you both cute and cozy this fall.
This is the third of what I hope will be monthly collections of clothing for for women with a sense of their own dignity. I will try to find items that are seasonally appropriate (for the Northern Hemisphere) and I will try to set it up so that you can make one or two outfits from the selections listed.
I think clothes are very important. You can read about some of my reasons here. I want to promote clothes that are attractive and dignified and to make it easier to find nice clothes without searching through pages of things that are ugly or inappropriate. Please tell me if this is useful, or if you see something I should put up here.
Purchases through these links will benefit the website. However, I only post things that I actually like. I have not tried all of these clothes, so I cannot guarantee that they will fit, suit, or otherwise please anyone. In order to maintain some sort of quality control, I will not post any clothes that have not received an average of at least four stars in their reviews.
I have one friend who always starts with the shoes when she plans her outfits, and these boots look practical, comfortable, and easy to wear. Combine with any of these other pieces for a fuss-free look.
The perfect thing to throw on when it’s too chilly for just your shirt, but not cold enough for a coat. Pair with the scarf below for an even cozier feel. This also comes in lots of other colors, but the army green is so wonderfully fallish.
Here’s a nice basic khaki skirt for any casual occasion. This would look great with the boots.
This is a wonderful bottom layer, a bit more sophisticated than a teeshirt, but just as comfortable. Imagine how soft and comfy it would feel under the long cardigan at the top. Also comes in a wonderful variety of colors.
I love scarves. This scarf isn’t just for looks, though it will coordinate nicely with a fall pallette. It is heavy and warm as well and will keep the fall chill away.
This is the first of our Successful Women series. For the introduction, click here.
The style and some of the sentiments in this sketch, which was written in the late 1800s may seem a little quaint in the twenty-first century, but the story should still be able to inspire us, despite the difference in literary style and social conditions.
While some aspects of society are vastly different and/or vastly improved today, some of Elizabeth Fry’s ideas for prison reform could still be usefully applied today.
“Humanity is erroneously considered among the commonplace virtues. If it deserved such a place there would be less urgent need than, alas! there is for its daily exercise among us. In its pale shape of kindly sentiment and bland pity it is common enough, and is always the portion of the cultivated. But humanity armed, aggressive, and alert, never slumbering and never wearying, moving like an ancient hero over the land to slay monsters, is the rarest of virtues.” –-JOHN MORLEY.
THE present century is one that is distinguished by the active part women have taken in careers that were previously closed to them. Some people would have us believe that if women write books, paint pictures, and understand science and ancient languages, they will cease to be true women, and cease to care for those womanly occupations and responsibilities that have always been entrusted to them. This is an essentially false and mistaken notion. True cultivation of the understanding makes a sensible woman value at their real high worth all her womanly duties, and so far from making her neglect them, causes her to appreciate them more highly than she would otherwise have done.
It has always been held, at least in Christian countries, that the most womanly of women’s duties are to be found in works of mercy to those who are desolate and miserable. To be thirsty, hungry, naked, sick, or in prison, is to have a claim for compassion and comfort upon womanly pity and tenderness. And we shall see, if we look back over recent years, that never have these womanly tasks been more zealously fulfilled than they have been in the century which has produced Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale, Josephine Butler, and Octavia Hill.
Mrs. Fry was born before the beginning of this century in 1780 but the great public work with which her memory will always be connected was not begun till about 1813. She was born of the wealthy Quaker family, the Gurneys of Norwich. Her parents were not very strict members of the sect to which they belonged, for they allowed their children to learn music and dancing pursuits that were then considered very worldly even by many who did not belong to the Society of Friends. Mr. and Mrs. Gurney, however, seem to have been very free from such prejudices, as well as from others which were much more universal, for their children not only learned music and dancing, but also girls as well as boys Latin and mathematics.
She had a very strong, innate repugnance to anything which drew public attention upon herself, and when the sphere of public duty first revealed itself to her, she records in her diary what it cost her to enter upon it, and writes of it as ” the humiliating path that has appeared to be opening before me.” It must be noticed, however, that in her case, as always, the steep and difficult path of duty becomes easier to those who do not flinch from it. In a later passage of her diary, the public work which she had at first called a path of humiliation she speaks of as “this great mercy.”
The first great change in Elizabeth Gurney’s life was caused by the deep impression made upon her by the sermons of William Savery. It is rather strange to find the girl who had such a terror of enthusiasm, weeping passionately while William Savery was preaching. Her sister described what took place. “Betsy astonished us all by the great feeling she showed. She wept most of the way home. . . . What she went through in her own mind I cannot say; but the results were most powerful and most evident.” Her emotion was not of the kind that passes away and leaves no trace behind. The whole course of her life and tenor of her thoughts were changed.
Soon after this, at the age of twenty, she became the wife of Mr. Joseph Fry, and removed to London, where she lived in St Mildred’s Court, in the City. The family into which she married were Quakers, like her own, but of a much more severe and strict kind. Her marriage was, however, in every respect a fortunate one. Her husband sympathised deeply with her in all her efforts for the good of others, and encouraged her in her public work, although many in the Society of Friends did not scruple to protest that a married woman has no duties except to her husband and children. Her journal shows how anxiously she guarded herself against any temptation to neglect her home duties. She was a tender and devoted mother to her twelve children, and it was through her knowledge of the strength of a mother’s love that she was able to reach the hearts of many of the poor prisoners whom she afterwards helped out of the wretchedness into which they had fallen.
Her study of the problem of how to help the poor began in this way. A beggar-woman with a child in her arms stopped her in the street. Mrs. Fry, seeing that the child had whooping-cough and was dangerously ill, offered to go with the woman to her home in order more effectually to assist her. To Mrs. Fry’s surprise, the woman immediately tried to make off; it was evident what she wanted was a gift of money, not any help to the suffering child. Mrs. Fry followed her, and found that her rooms were filled with a crowd of farmed-out children in every stage of sickness and misery; the more pitiable the appearance of one of these poor mites, the more useful an implement was it in the beggar’s stock-in-trade.
From this time onwards the condition of women and children in the lowest and most degraded of the criminal classes became the study of Mrs. Fry’s life. She had the gift of speech on any subject which deeply moved her. From about 1809 she began to speak at the Friends’ meeting-house. This power of speaking, as well as working, enabled her to draw about her an active band of co-workers. When she first began visiting the female prisoners in Newgate it is probable that she could not have supported all that she had to go through if it had not been for the sympathy and companionship of Anna Buxton and other Quaker ladies whom she had roused through her power of speech, just as she had herself been roused when a girl by the preaching of William Savory.
The condition of the women and children in Newgate Prison, when Mrs. Fry first began visiting them in 1813, was more horrible than anything that can be easily imagined. Three hundred poor wretches were herded together in two wards and two cells, with no furniture, no bedding of any kind, and no arrangements for decency or privacy. Cursing and swearing, foul language, and personal filthiness, made the dens in which the women were confined equally offensive to ear, eye, nose, and sense of modesty. The punishment of death at that time existed for 300 different offences, and though there were many mitigations of the sentence in the case of those who had only committed minor breaches of the law, yet the fact that nearly all had by law incurred the penalty of death, gave an apparent justification for herding the prisoners indiscriminately together. It thus happened that many a poor girl who had committed a comparatively trivial offence, became absolutely ruined in body and mind through her contact in prison with the vilest and most degraded of women. No attempt whatever was made to reform or discipline the prisoners, or to teach them any trade whereby, on leaving the jail, they might earn an honest livelihood. Add to this that there were no female warders nor female officers of any kind in the prison, and that the male warders were frequently men of depraved life, and it is not difficult to see that no element of degradation was wanting to make the female wards of Newgate what they were often called a hell on earth.
When Elizabeth Fry and Anna Buxton first visited this Inferno, there was so little pretence at any kind of control over the prisoners that the Governor of Newgate advised the ladies to leave their watches behind them at home. Mrs. Fry, with a wise instinct, felt that the best way of influencing the poor, wild, rough women was to show her care for their children. Many of the prisoners had their children with them in jail, and there were very few even of the worst who could not be reached by care for their little ones. Even those who had no children were often not without the motherly instinct, and could be roused to some measure of self-restraint and decency for the sake of the children who were being corrupted by their example. So Mrs. Fry’s first step towards reforming the women took the form of starting a school for the children in the prison.
As usual in all good work of a novel kind, those who knew nothing about it were quite sure that Mrs. Fry would have been much more usefully employed if she had turned her energies in a different direction. People who have never stirred a finger to lighten the misery of mankind always know, so much better than the workers, what to do and how to do it. They would probably tell a fireman who is entering a burning house at the risk of his life, that he would be more usefully employed in studying the chemical action of fire, or in pondering over the indestructibility of matter. The popular feeling with regard to Mrs. Fry’s work in Newgate was embodied by Thomas Hood in a ballad which is preserved in his collected works, and serves now to show how wrong a good and tender-hearted man may be in passing judgment on a work of the value of which he was entirely unqualified to form an opinion. The refrain of the poem is “Keep your school out of Newgate, Mrs. Fry.”
I like the pity in your full-brimmed eye
I like your carriage and your silken gray,
Your dove-like habits and your silent preaching,
But I don’t like your Newgatory teaching.
No, I’ll be your friend, and like a friend
Point out your very worst defect. Nay, never
Start at that word! But I must ask you why
You keep your school in Newgate, Mrs. Fry.
Mrs. Fry’s philanthropy was not of a kind to be checked by a ballad, and she went on perseveringly with her work; the school was formed, and a prisoner named Mary Connor, became the first schoolmistress. A wonderful change gradually became apparent in the demeanour, language, and appearance of the women in prison. In 1817 an association was formed for carrying on the work Mrs. Fry had begun. It was called ” An Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate.”
Public attention was now alive to the importance of the work; and in the following year a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to inquire and report upon the condition of the London prisons. Mrs. Fry was examined before this committee. Her chief recommendations were that the prisoners should be employed in some industry, and be paid for their work, and that good conduct should be encouraged by rewards; she was also most urgent that the women prisoners should be in the charge of women warders.
Mrs. Fry did not confine her efforts to the poor and wretched of her own country. She visited foreign countries in order thoroughly to study various methods of prison work and discipline. On one occasion she found in Paris a congenial task in bringing the force of public opinion to bear on the treatment of children in the Foundling Hospital there. The poor babies were done up in swaddling clothes that were only unwrapped once in twelve hours. There was no healthy screaming in the wards, only a sound that a hearer compared to the faint and pitiful bleating of lambs. A lady who visited the hospital said she never made the round of the spotlessly clean white cots, without finding at least one dead baby! Everything in the hospital was regulated by clockwork; its outward appearance was clean and orderly in the extreme, but the babies died like flies!
There were many other classes of neglected or unfortunate people whose circumstances were improved by Mrs. Fry’s exertions. The lonely shepherds of Salisbury Plain were provided with a library after she had visited the desolate region where they lived. She also organised a lending library for coastguardsmen and for domestic servants. There was no end to her active exertions for the good of others except that of her life. She died at Kamsgate in 1845, and was buried at Barking.
Her private life was not without deep sorrows and anxieties. She lost a passionately beloved child in 1815; in 1828 her husband was unfortunate in his business affairs. They suffered from a great diminution of fortune, and were obliged to remove to a smaller house and adopt a less expensive style of living. She did not pretend to any indifference she was far from feeling under these trials ; but they were powerless to turn her from the duties which she had marked out for herself. The work which she had undertaken for the good of others probably became, in its turn, her own solace and support in the hour of trial and affliction. In helping others she had unconsciously built up a strong refuge for herself, thus giving a new illustration to the truth of the words: ” He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life, for my sake, shall find it.”
Adapted from Some Eminent Women of Our Time by Elizabeth Garret Fawcett