The Friday Poem ‘To the Indifferent Women’ by Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman

Last night a woman accepted the nomination of a major political party for the first time in the history of the United States. The next president will preside over the commemoration of the centennial of the 19th amendment, which extended suffrage – the right to vote, to women.

To mark history, the Friday Poem this week is ‘To the Indifferent Women’ and was first published in 1911. Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman called herself a humanist. She was a poet, author, magazine editor and feminist in a lifetime that began with the civil war and ended in the great depression.

Although the words were set to paper over a century ago, the message resonates today.

“We all may have our homes in joy and peace
When woman’s life, in its rich power of love
Is joined with man’s to care for all the world.”

To The Indifferent Women

A Sestina

You who are happy in a thousand homes,
Or overworked therein, to a dumb peace;
Whose souls are wholly centered in the life
Of that small group you personally love;
Who told you that you need not know or care
About the sin and sorrow of the world?

Do you believe the sorrow of the world
Does not concern you in your little homes? —
That you are licensed to avoid the care
And toil for human progress, human peace,
And the enlargement of our power of love
Until it covers every field of life?

The one first duty of all human life
Is to promote the progress of the world
In righteousness, in wisdom, truth and love;
And you ignore it, hidden in your homes,
Content to keep them in uncertain peace,
Content to leave all else without your care.

Yet you are mothers! And a mother’s care
Is the first step toward friendly human life.
Life where all nations in untroubled peace
Unite to raise the standard of the world
And make the happiness we seek in homes
Spread everywhere in strong and fruitful love.

You are content to keep that mighty love
In its first steps forever; the crude care
Of animals for mate and young and homes,
Instead of pouring it abroad in life,
Its mighty current feeding all the world
Till every human child can grow in peace.

You cannot keep your small domestic peace
Your little pool of undeveloped love,
While the neglected, starved, unmothered world
Struggles and fights for lack of mother’s care,
And its tempestuous, bitter, broken life
Beats in upon you in your selfish homes.

We all may have our homes in joy and peace
When woman’s life, in its rich power of love
Is joined with man’s to care for all the world.

Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman  ‘Suffrage Songs and Voices’ 1911

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Convention photo credit: Marcus Yam for The Los Angeles Times

 

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