A bit of history: Words from
-- by Percy Hammond
New complications are added daily to an existence already teaming with disorder.
[Three paragraphs snipped to help the man get to his point.]
"All changes! Sex alone endures."
The newest movement which aims to provide us with a fresh complexity is that of the Lucy Stone League. You may not know exactly what the Lucy Stone League is. Perhaps another trivial sorority, you may thing, born of an instinct to be gregarious; or an inconsequential woman's club proposing to amend something not worth amending. The land is full of similar coteries, you suspect, which has officers and which meet now and then without, however, increasing or diminishing our imperfections.
But the Lucy Stone League is a band of proficient crusaders whose purpose is to preserve for the American woman the identity of her own name. Its members are sworn to deprive themselves, if they desire to do so, of their husband's praenomina and patronymics, and to abolish, so far as they themselves are concerned, the word "Mrs." from the glossary of married life. They do not insist upon the titles given them as they issued from the baptismal fonts, for many of them have rechristened themselves with captions more suitable.
What they cry for is release from the ambiguity of the name of the man them happen to have married. They demand the freedom of a significant symbol all their own. For example, "Miss Sophie Treadwell" is an expression of the particular individuality of one of its most fervent protagonists. So why should Miss Treadwell suffer from so incompetent a description as is her married name, "Mrs. William O. McGeehan"? Miss Lucy Stone (Mrs. H. B. Blackwell), the posthumous godmother of the organization, wrote, while battling for women's rights and the abolition of slavery, the slogan of the league, "My name is the symbol of my identity and must not be lost."
It is in that way that the Lucy Stone League augments the fluctuations which throw our composures out of gear. Some of its resulting confusions are indelicate and therefore may be merely hinted at. Many moral hotel clerks, however, are troubled in the assignment of rooms to the traveling Lucy Stoners and their husbands. Landlords and janitors, guarding the good behavior of their apartment houses, lose sleep in worrying about the "Misses" and "Misters" who occupy their decorous suites.
Sensitive hostesses sometimes are dismayed by contretemps which arise from ignorance concerning the matrimonial status of their guests. The guests themselves undergo embarrassments. At an important literary dinner party not long ago, Mr. Channing Pollock, author of The Fool, sat hard by a lady who, he had been informed, was the wife of one of the editors of the New Republic, which, indeed, she was. He addressed her as "Mrs. Hackett" and was at once graciously reproved. "I am Miss Toksvig, not Mrs. Hackett," said she.
"But," Mr. Pollock blushingly ventured, "I thought you were married -----" Thereupon a long and futile discussion ensued, Miss Toksvig, of course, prevailing. Whereas Miss Toksvig and Mr. Pollock, both of them brilliant conversationalists, might have talked volubly about The Fool, Chaliapin, lawn tennis, or the Ruhr, they wasted their evening in a debate on the principles of the Lucy Stone league.
I know an average man of the world whose morals, so far as the wives of other men are concerned, are punctilious. He would rather not flirt at all than flirt with a lady who has a husband. But at a tea party the other day he found himself in romantic propinquity to a comely miss whose flaunting eyes provoked him to become sentimental. After he had plied her innocently with cocktails and tender phrases, hinting an affection for her, he discovered her to be the wife of a favorite novelist, who was using her own name. Nonplussed and humiliated, he bowed himself out, another victim of Lucy Stone.
These predicaments may seem trifling to those who have not meditated profoundly upon the topic. They are but the spindrift of a situation capable of more harrowing eventualities. It is recorded that a loyal Lucy Stoner, facing the tortures of childbirth, waited for hours in a taxicab in front of a New York hospital while her frantic husband tried to convince the surgeons that she was a "Miss" in title only. The surgeons finally admitted her, but they were considerably annoyed.
At present Secretary of State Hughes and his department are involved in one of the onerous problems propounded by the Lucy Stone League.
The president of the organization has been ambitious for years to visit foreign parts. In order to do so, it seems, she must have a passport. The State Department, eager to facilitate the lady's egress, will however, give her leave of absence only in the name of her helpmate, prefixed by the odious "Mrs."
She declines the designation as humiliating and contemptible and insists that she will travel under her own name or not at all. Here, indeed, are confusing circumstances. The Department of State is distressed by the baffling enigma, and in worrying about it may neglect some other equally significant nicety of diplomacy.
The lady meantime, though yearning for distant shores, remains, with all a martyr's obduracy, at home, and the movement thus is more than an anti-man gesture. It doesn't desire a further humiliation of the male. It simply takes the primitive privilege of the totem pole and other distant periods wherein a woman was permitted, though married, to retain her own emblem. Such female celebrities as Victoria and Cleopatra lived their own lives without being called "Mrs.," and so did Catherine de Medici, George Eliot, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Pocahontas.
The members of the Lucy Stone bund do not object to their father's names; only to that of their husbands. Miss Fola La Follette, for instance, prefers that prominent insigne to the one bestowed upon her at the marriage altar, "Mrs. George Middleton." It means more.
How handicapped would Miss Barrymore by if she were billed as "Mrs. Russell Cold," and would there be as much artistic lure in "Mrs. J. Hartley Manners" as there is in the magic of "Miss Laurette Taylor"? Miss Fannie Hurst could not advantageously abandon her banner for that of her husband. Who knows and who cares what the names are of those who are married to Nora Bayes, Marjorie Rambeau, Sophie Tucker, or Julia Sanderson? Even the most hostile anti-Lucy Stoner cannot blame Miss Fannie Brice for using her own pennon in preference to that of her equally famous husband, Mr. Arnstein.
The principal martyr to the Lucy Stone cause is Miss Ruth Hale, its discoverer and president. Miss Hale is the wife of an eminent New York critic and feuilletonist, and she might share more fully the joys of his prestige were she willing to sacrifice her own identity. But she will not. Rather than be vicariously glorified by another's headline, Miss Hale elects to lurk in the shadows of an independent obscurity. Here, indeed, is suffering for a mission. Galli-Curci, Miss Elsie Ferguson, and the Dolly Sisters may, with no discomfort, ignore their marriage escutcheons; but Miss Hale, like the lady in the fable, pays and pays--a martyr in name and in fact.
"How dare a man," said a member of the league to me, "how dare a man inflict the woman he has promised to love and cherish with such an epithet as 'Percy'? If you have regarded yourself from your first conscious moment as Anna Maria Brown you can't suddenly, with any happiness, regard yourself as Mrs. Percy Jones."
Nomenclature, the Lucy Stoners contend, is an art, a right, a science, and a business. they insist that if Miss Anna Maria Brown feels she is better described by that appellation than by the one bestowed casually upon her at the altar, she is entitled to retain it. They take the matter very seriously. Almost as much so, it seems as do their perplexed, embarrassed, and inconvenienced husbands and children. One can picture the distress of a little girl who, at kindergarten, is asked who her mother is, and who wonders what to say -- Miss Anna Maria Brown or Mrs. Percy Jones.
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