“I am left a widow with the necessity upon me of getting my own living, and an abundance of vitality and energy wherewith to accomplish it. There is a something telling me it is for my good to be doing something… But to do something which earns a living will mark me masculine and vulgar. I can live with my relatives, and retain my standing in society…. I am told that it is not genteel and fashionable for young ladies to work….

   “I decide on going to work because it suits my pleasure so to do. What shall I undertake? Shall I go on a salary, or engage in some business of my own? Why should I go on a salary when I am as capable of managing a business, and obtaining all the profits of it as the one who might employ me. But what business can a woman establish herself in? Men monopolize everything…..

   “I begin to see some point to the woman’s rights question. Why is there a masculine monopoly of business? Why shouldn’t woman compete with men in the race for earning money and getting a living? There are certainly no legal objections to her doing it; no moral ones that I can see. The chief difficulty appears to lie in her own capacity, or rather lack of capacity, physical and mental, and in the social atmosphere with which she is surrounded….

   “To be sure woman in her present status is not fitted to undertake all kinds of business. Her manner of dress, and other habits, would make it rather inconvenient for her to go to the mast-head in a gale, or handle goods in a wholesale grocery establishment. She has as much as she can attend to out-of-doors to hold up her trailing garments, adjust her sun-shade, and make a graceful appearance in the eyes of the other sex…..

   “I can’t change the social condition of woman. My wisdom is to make the best of it. There must be some kinds of business that a woman can undertake. On thinking it over nothing presents itself but a fancy-goods store, dress-making, millinery, or a candy shop. There are but few kinds to choose from, but business will be independence. There will be no one to say me aye or nay, and that will be a glorious state of existence

From “The Diary of a Milliner” by Belle Otis, 1867
(via ellenkushner)

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