When an English gentleman was asked what seemed to him the most remarkable thing in Boston, he promptly answered, “The Women!” Mary Carpenter said “she did not see what more the women of Boston could ask for,” so favorably did their position compare with that of women in any other country.
There is a strong and recognizable type of Boston women whose characteristics are clear and enduring; and the gradual formation of this type may be traced from the earliest periods of the town’s history, as in leading individuals those qualities are clearly seen which have made the woman of to-day what she is. The Boston woman inherits from a line of well-bred and well-educated ancestors, mostly English, a physical frame delicate and supple, but enduring. It is capable of great nervous force and energy, and can be made to serve the mind and will almost absolutely. But she is liable to attacks of disease, and under unfavorable conditions her nervous energy degenerates into irritability. More intellectual than passionate, her impulses are under control; and she is reserved and cold in manner, while a gentle purity inspires confidence even before it awakens affection.
Her morality is stern and exacting, and she does not understand the temptations which beset other natures; her own sense of chastity is so high that, like the lady in Comus, she walks amid a thousand dangers unheeding and unharmed. She shrinks from contact with evil until it appears as suffering, when duty and benevolence overcome her sensitiveness. She is speculative in theology, while conservative in her tastes; and, though indulging great freedom of thought, is devout in her habits. This conflict sometimes produces a strain upon her feelings too great for endurance, and she seeks refuge in an established church. Perhaps this is only a brief rest in her onward career, or it leads to a life of moral or benevolent activity in which she is content. Her aesthetic nature is serious and refined, preferring the classic music to the modern opera, and pre-Raphaelitism to sensuous beauty. The subdued style of her dress marks her position in the scale of refinement.
Aristocratic by tradition, she is in danger of becoming exclusive and narrow; but, liberalized by education, she is democratic in her work, if not in her tastes and social habits.
Her hospitality is not free, for her time is precious and her housekeeping orderly; but the old Boston matron made home a radiating centre of goodness and happiness. She gives the name of “friend” carefully, but holds it sacredly.
By Mrs. Ednah D. Cheney
Source: The Memorial History of Boston, September 17, 1880.
Image: Godey’s Lady’s Book, March, 1878