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CHANGED IDEALS AND STATUS OF THE FAMILY AND
THE PUBLIC ACTIVITIES OF WOMEN
BY GEORGE ELLIOTT HOWARD, Ph.D.,
Professor of Political Science and Sociology, University of Nebraska.
Probably for every people in each stage of social evolution the typical or basic fact is its prevailing or "working" constitution of the family. By the family constitution is meant, in all its wide implications, the vast complex of relations, internal and external, arising in nature's triad of personalities, the mother, father, and child. The changing quality of these relations is the measure, the yardstick, of social progress. As the ideal of the family rises civilization advances.
The Sacramental Tabu of Matrimony Defeats Social Control
In Europe before the Reformation the conditions were not favorable to the rational and healthy growth of the family constitution. Everywhere among all peoples and in all stages of culture, marriage, divorce, and the other family institutions appear as intensely human products. They are social structures, requiring for their safe development the freest appeal to reason and experience. Yet how often have they become the favorite domain of mysticism, superstition, and sacerdotalism! So it was throughout Christendom under the sway of the canon law. It was most unfortunate for civilization that the Christian conception of the nature of marriage should have sprung from asceticism, and that the verbal subtlety of celibate schoolmen should have produced the cardinal definitions upon which the validity of marriage contracts, and therefore the practical administration of matrimonial law, were made to depend. With regard to institutions upon which in so high a degree the welfare of society rests, anarchy was practically sanctioned by the canon law. Where the utmost clearness and simplicity were needed, obscurity and complexity prevailed; and where publicity was urgently demanded by the plainest rule of common sense, there secrecy was in effect invited and rewarded. Clandestine marriage on an enormous scale was the evil fruit of the canonical theory; divorce, forbidden by the
sacramental dogma, masqueraded in the guise of the decree of nullity of spurious wedlock, often secured by perjury and fraud; while woman, whose spiritual equality with man seems affirmed by the spirit of the New Testament, was denied her full franchise in the family trinity because of theological quibbling regarding her alleged guilt for the "original sin." In a word, the canonists placed the most vital family relations under rigid tabu against any rational social or human control.
The Family Set Free as a Social Institution
This tabu was lifted by Martin Luther. Under his leadership a fatal blow was struck at the ecclesiastical control of the matrimonial relations. Slowly, almost reluctantly, Luther made up his mind to repudiate the sacramental dogma of wedlock. Marriage, he declared, is a "temporal, worldly thing" which "does not concern the church." This revolt, it is clear, involved a new doctrine of social control, of the function of the state, which is of great interest to the sociologist and the political scientist alike. In principle, by accepting Luther's dictum, marriage, divorce, and family-types are recognized as purely social institutions, to be dealt with freely by men according to human needs. Assuredly no more harmful blunder was ever committed by theological subtlety than the setting apart of marriage as par excellence the divine institution. A stumbling block was thus put in the way of social progress. Yet today even after a fruitful half-century's scientific study of society, how many good people still cling to the old teaching! They resent the interference of the bold sociologist with the privileged matrimonial institutions. Fatalism, mob-mind, is still singularly strong in conserving the archaic or traditional ideals of the sexual and marital life.
Reconstruction of the Family Constitution
The recognition of the family as a social institution cleared the way for social control. Civil marriage and civil divorce became inevitable. During four centuries the constitution of the family has been in process of dissolution and reconstruction. At first slowly, later with amazing speed, patriarchalism has yielded to democracy in the household. Throughout the western world secular legislation is being extended practically to the whole province, of the domestic
relations. It is a many-sided movement for spiritual liberation through which the mother and child are being recognized as equal personalities in the family trinity and in society. It is a process of individualization for the sake of socialization by which the corporate unity of the patriarchal family is being dissolved or even completely destroyed. More and more wife and child are being set free from the sway of the housefather and placed directly under the larger social control.
The new solidarity of the state is thus being won at the expense of the old solidarity of the family. In fact, the rise of democracy in the household is one of the major results of the general leveling process which is releasing the individual from class, sex, or groupcontrol and constituting him a free and distinct unit of the sovereign authority. Hence the family bond is no longer coercion but persuasion. The tie which holds the members of the family together is ceasing to be juridical and becoming spiritual. More and more the household life is dominated by the social motive and less and less by the carnal or sexual desire as an enduring constitutional force. Essentially the family society is becoming a psychic fact. Beyond question the individualization for the sake of socialization, although attended by some temporary evil, is producing a loftier ideal of the marital union and a more just view of the relative functions of the sexes in the world's work. Immediately, from the very nature of the process, it has inured most to the advantage of the woman. In the family, it is releasing the wife from the husband's hand and making her an even member in the connubial partnership; in the larger society, it is accomplishing her political, economic, and intellectual independence. The liberation of the personalities of the mother and child is immensely widening and hastening the process of socializing human kind.
In the United States this process of reconstructing the family constitution has reached a crisis. Here, in the half-century since the Civil War, the liberation movement has gained its greatest speed. Here the remnants of the old coercive system are swiftly passing. Here woman is boldly vindicating her personality. Here precocious youth is winning "emancipation" often in amazingly tender years. Here the voluntary and state experiments for child-saving, motherwelfare, and for clean social living are many and daring. Here the socialized physician and the socialized clergyman are joining hands
with the household economist and the sociologist in an earnest effort to create better methods of home building and saner ideals of family living. There are distinct signs of an extraordinary awakening of the social consciousness and the social conscience to the cardinal truth that the family, as already defined, is the basic fact in our national life, and hence the dynamic factor which ultimately, for good or ill, must determine the quality of American civilization. Emphatically, with respect to the ideals of the family, we are at the height of the transition from the old régime to the new.
Now, are not the radical changes taking place in the family too precipitate to be safe or enduring? Is not this sudden rise of democracy among its members a serious menace to its stability? The family, it is alleged by some earnest students, is in danger of disintegration through the tendencies to individualism which in so many ways are a striking characteristic of our transition epoch. Social reconstruction is always a costly process. Should reform be too long delayed, the price may be very dear. If the process be revolutionary in its velocity and force, grave mistakes may be made. There will be frequent mis-selection," wrong choice of ways and means on the part of the social builder.
Hence it is not strange that the changing ideals of the family have brought us face to face with social evils which are proving very hard to overcome; have disclosed social problems that will demand all our wisdom and courage to solve. The question is, are the new ideals worth the cost of their realization? Are the evils which confront us due to social conditions which may be remedied?
Is the Over-parentage of the State a Menace to the Family
Thus the integrity of the family, many believe, is threatened by the rapid expansion of the function of the state as over-parent. Ever in new ways the state is "invading" the family to abridge the parental authority. Elementary education is made compulsory. The state now freely enters the home and, for a considerable portion of the working day during the school years, takes the child out of the parents' hands and entrusts it to the public teacher. The school child's health is looked after through medical inspection, sometimes compulsory; and in various ways public provision is made to prevent the evil effects of poverty and malnutrition. To save the delinquent
child from misery, vice, and crime, it is put in charge of the juvenile court. Because, with increasing light, we have become aware of grave faults in household nurture-faults that have always and everywhere existed-a many-sided movement for child-saving has arisen. Minor children are no longer looked upon as an economic asset, as the absolute property of the father. A legal ban is therefore placed upon child labor. Society forbids the employment of young children in factories, mines, and in various injurious vocations. They may even be removed from home, when cruelly treated or exposed to vicious influences, and placed under nurture of the state. In like spirit, society is intervening for the conservation of motherhood. Through maternal insurance, mother-pensions, and various other forms of protection, the state is undertaking to safeguard the welfare of the race.
Is there any just cause for serious alarm in this remarkable growth of the state's over-parentage? Is it not a phenomenon incident to a transition phase in social progress? Mistakes may occur; the process may be carried to an extreme; but clearly, as a remedy for social evils, the movement is sanctioned by rising ideals of the family welfare. The motive of the state in assuming control of the domestic régime is to overcome the neglect or inability of parents properly to care for the nurture of their children. The destructive influence of the derelict home is one of the most harmful of modern social conditions. Largely this is due to the threatened dissolution of the solidarity of the family through the industrial revolution. With the rise of corporate and machine industry in the place of household industry has come a weakening of the intimacy of home ties. Through the factory and the division of labor the family hearthstone often becomes a mere temporary meeting-place of individual wage-earners. The congestion of population in cities is forcing into being new and lower modes of life. The tenement is destructive of the home. The "lodging-house," the "flat," or the "apartment" does not afford an ideal environment for domestic joys. Publicity in life's functions tends to breed sexual communism. Prostitution flourishes. In the crowded, heterogeneous, and shifting populations of the great towns marriages are often lightly made and as lightly dissolved.
Yet the perils to the family resulting from these causes need not be fatal. Already they are passing away. Urban conditions