The following is an extract from L.M. Alcott's short story which she wrote in 1868.
ONE OF THE trials of woman-kind is the fear of being an old maid. To escape this dreadful doom1, young
girls rush into matrimony2 with a recklessness which astonishes the beholder; never pausing to remember
that the loss of liberty, happiness, and self-respect is poorly repaid by the barren honor of being called
"Mrs." instead of "Miss."
Fortunately, this foolish prejudice is fast disappearing, conquered by the success of a certain class
belonging to the sisterhood. This class is composed of superior women who, from various causes, remain
single, and devote themselves to some earnest work; espousing3 philanthropy4, art, literature, music,
medicine, or whatever task taste, necessity, or chance suggests, and remaining as faithful to and as
happy in their choice as married women with husbands and homes. It being my good fortune to know several
such, I venture to offer a little sketch of them to those of my young countrywomen who, from choice or
necessity, stand along, seeking to find the happiness which is the right of all.
Here is L., a rich man's daughter; pretty, accomplished, sensible, and good. She tried fashionable life
and found that it did not satisfy her. No lover was happy enough to make a response in her heart, and at
twenty-three she looked about her for something to occupy and interest her. She was attracted towards the
study of medicine; became absorbed in it; went alone to Paris and London; studied faithfully; received
her diploma, and, having practised successfully for a time, was appointed the resident physician of a
city hospital. Here, doing a truly womanly work, she finds no time for ennui5, unhappiness, or the vague
longing for something to fill heart and life, which leads so many women to take refuge6. in frivolous or
dangerous amusements and pursuits. She never talks of her mission or her rights, but beautifully fulfils
the one and quietly assumes the others. Few criticise or condemn her course, and none question her
success. Respected and beloved by all who know her, she finds genuine satisfaction in her work, and
is the busiest, happiest, most useful woman whom I know.
My sisters, don't be afraid of the words, "old maid," for it is in your power to make this a term of
honor, not reproach7. It is not necessary to be a sour, spiteful spinster8, with nothing to do but brew
tea, talk scandal and tend a pocket-handkerchief. No, the world is full of work, needing all the heads,
hearts, and hands we can bring to do it. Never was there so splendid an opportunity for women to enjoy
their liberty and prove that they deserve it by using it wisely. If love comes as it should come,
accept it in God's name and be worthy of His best blessing. If it never comes, then in God's name
reject the shadow of it, for that can never satisfy a hungry heart. Do not be ashamed to own the
truth - do not be daunted9 by the fear of ridicule and loneliness, nor saddened by the loss of a
woman's tenderest ties. Be true to yourselves; cherish whatever talent you possess, and in using
it faithfully for the good of others you will most assuredly10 find happiness for yourself, and make
of life no failure, but a beautiful success.
Source: Short Stories by Louisa May Alcott, Dover Thrift Editions, pp. 40+42
1. doom - Schicksal, drohendes Unheil
2. matrimony - Ehe, Ehestand
3. to espouse sth. - für etwas eintreten
4. philanthropy - Philantrophie, Menschenliebe
5. ennui - Langeweile
6. to take refuge - Zuflucht suchen
7. reproach - Schande, Vorwurf
8. spinster - alte Jungfer
9. daunted - eingeschüchert
10.assuredly - sicher(lich)
1. Briefly state the image of women the authoress has in mind.
2. What woman is L. and why does the authoress take her as an example of what she wants to convey.
3. What class do women Alcott adresses belong to?
4. Do you think that Alcott's ideas were 'revolutionary' at the time she wrote her story?
5. After more than 150 years, what would today's women say about Alcott's ideas and woman's self-determination?