Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Ch. 5: Four of the Highly Specialized

 

FOUR OF THE HIGHLY SPECIALIZED

 

 

There are four other ways in which women (exclusive of the artist class) are enjoying remunerative careers: as social secretaries, play brokers, librarians, and editors; and it seems to me that I cannot do better than to drop generalities in this final chapter and give four of the most notable instances in which women have "made good" in these highly distinctive professions. I have selected four whom I happen to know well enough to portray at length: Maria de Barril, Alice Kauser, Belle da Costa Greene, and Honoré Willsie. It is true that Mrs. Willsie, being a novelist, belongs to the artist class, but she is also an editor, which to my mind makes her success in both spheres the more remarkable. To edit means hours daily of routine, details, contacts; mechanical work, business, that would drive most writers of fiction quite mad. But Mrs. Willsie is exceptionally well balanced.

 

 

 

 

I

MARIA DE BARRIL

 

 

A limited number of young women thrown abruptly upon their own resources become social secretaries if their own social positions have insensibly prepared them for the position, and if they live in a city large enough to warrant this fancy but by no means inactive post. In Washington they are much in demand by Senators' and Congressmen's wives suddenly translated from a small town where the banker's lady hobnobbed with the prosperous undertaker's family, to a city where the laws of social precedence are as rigid as at the court of the Hapsburgs and a good deal more complicated. But these young women must themselves have lived in Washington for many years, or they will be forced to divide their salary with a native assistant.

The most famous social secretary in the United States, if not in the world, is Maria de Barril, and she is secretary not to one rich woman but to New York society itself. Her position, entirely self-made, is unique and secure, and well worth telling.

Pampered for the first twenty years of her life like a princess and with all her blood derived from one of the oldest and most relaxed nations in Europe, she was suddenly forced to choose between sinking out of sight, the mere breath kept in her body, perhaps, on a pittance from distant relatives, or going to work.

She did not hesitate an instant. Being of society she knew its needs, and although she was too young to look far ahead and foresee the structure which was to rise upon these tentative foundations, she shrewdly began by offering her services to certain friends often hopelessly bewildered with the mass of work they were obliged to leave to incompetent secretaries and housekeepers. One thing led to another, as it always does with brave spirits, and to-day Miss de Barril has a position in life which, with its independence and freedom, she would not exchange for that of any of her patrons. She conducted her economic venture with consummate tact from the first. Owing to a promise made her mother, the haughtiest of old Spanish dames as I remember her, she never has entered on business the houses of the society that employs her, and has retained her original social position apparently without effort.

She has offices, which she calls her embassy, and there, with a staff of secretaries, she advises, dictates, revises lists, issues thousands of invitations a week during the season, plans entertainments for practically all of New York society that makes a business of pleasure.

Some years ago a scion of one of those New York families so much written about that they have become almost historical, married after the death of his mother, and wished to introduce his bride at a dinner-dance in the large and ugly mansion whose portals in his mother's day opened only to the indisputably elect.

The bridegroom found his mother's list, but, never having exercised his masculine faculties in this fashion before, and hazy as to whether all on that list were still alive or within the pale, he wrote to the social ambassadress asking her to come to his house on a certain morning and advise him. Miss de Barril replied that not even for a member of his family, devoted as she was to it, would she break her promise to her mother, and he trotted down to her without further parley. Moreover, she was one of the guests at the dinner.

Of course it goes without saying that Miss de Barril has not only brains and energy, but character, a quite remarkably fascinating personality, and a thorough knowledge of the world. Many would have failed where she succeeded. She must have had many diplomatists among her ancestors, for her tact is incredible, although in her case Latin subtlety never has degenerated into hypocrisy. No woman has more devoted friends. Personally I know that I should have thrown them all out of the window the first month and then retired to a cave on a mountain. She must have the social sense in the highest degree, combined with a real love of "the world."

Her personal appearance may have something to do with her success. Descended on one side from the Incas of Peru, she looks like a Spanish grandee, and is known variously to her friends as "Inca," "Queen," and "Doña Maria"--my own name for her. When I knew her first she found it far too much of an effort to pull on her stockings and was as haughty and arrogant a young girl as was to be found in the then cold and stately city of New York. She looks as haughty as ever because it is difficult for a Spaniard of her blood to look otherwise; but her manners are now as charming as her manner is imposing; and if the bottom suddenly fell out of Society her developed force of character would steer her straight into another lucrative position with no disastrous loss of time.

It remains to be pointed out that she would have failed in this particular sphere if New York Society had been as callous and devoid of loyalty even in those days, as the novel of fashion has won its little success by depicting it. The most socially eminent of her friends were those that helped her from the first, and with them she is as intimate as ever to-day.

 

 

 

 

II

ALICE BERTA JOSEPHINE KAUSER

 

 

Credit must be given to Elisabeth Marbury for inventing the now flourishing and even over-crowded business of play broker; but as she was of a strongly masculine character and as surrounded by friends as Miss de Barril, her success is neither as remarkable nor as interesting as that of Alice Kauser, who has won the top place in this business in a great city to which she came poor and a stranger.

Not that she had; grown up in the idea that she must make her own way in the world. Far from it. It is for that reason I have selected her as another example of what a girl may accomplish if she have character and grit backed up with a thorough intellectual training. For, it must never be forgotten, unless one is a genius it is impossible to enter the first ranks of the world's workers without a good education and some experience of the world. Parents that realize this find no sacrifice too great to give their children the most essential of all starts in life. But the extraordinary thing in the United States of America is how comparatively few parents do realize it. Moreover, how many are weak enough, even when with a reasonable amount of self-sacrifice they could send their children through college, to yield to the natural desire of youth to "get out and hustle."

Miss Kauser was born in Buda Pest, in the United States Consular Agency, for her father, although a Hungarian, was Consular Agent. It was an intellectual family and on her mother's side musically gifted. Miss Kauser's aunt, Etelka Gerster, when she came to this country as a prima donna had a brief but brilliant career, and the music-loving public prostrated itself. But her wonderful voice was a fragile coloratura, and her first baby demolished it. Berta Gerster, Miss Kauser's mother, was almost equally renowned for a while in Europe.

Mr. Kauser himself was a pupil of Abel Blouet at the Beaux Arts, but he fought in the Revolution of 1848 in Hungary, and later with Garibaldi in the Hungarian Legion in Italy.

Miss Kauser, who must have been born well after these stirring events, was educated by French governesses and Polish tutors. Her friends tell the story of her that she grew up with the determination to be the most beautiful woman in the world, and when she realized that, although handsome and imposing, she was not a great beauty according to accepted standards, she philosophically buried this callow ambition and announced, "Very well; I shall be the most intellectual woman in the world."

There are no scales by which to make tests of these delicate degrees of the human mind, even in the case of authors who put forth four books a year, but there is no question that Miss Kauser is a highly accomplished woman, with a deep knowledge of the literature of many lands, a passionate feeling for style, and a fine judgment that is the result of years of hard intellectual work and an equally profound study of the world. And who shall say that the wild ambitions of her extreme youth did not play their part in making her what she is to-day? I have heard "ambition" sneered at all my life, but never by any one who possessed the attribute itself, or the imaginative power to appreciate what ambition has meant in the progress of the world.

Miss Kauser studied for two years at the École Monceau in Paris, although she had been her father's housekeeper and a mother to the younger children since the age of twelve. Both in Paris and Buda Pest she was in constant association with friends of her father, who developed her intellectual breadth.

Financial reverses brought the family to America and they settled in Pensacola, Florida. Here Miss Kauser thought it was high time to put her accomplishments to some use and help out the family exchequer. She began almost at once to teach French and music. When her brothers were older she made up her mind to seek her fortune in New York and arrived with, a letter or two. For several months she taught music and literature in private families. Then Mary Bisland introduced her to Miss Marbury, where she attended to the French correspondence of the office for a year.

But these means of livelihood were mere makeshifts. Ambitious, imperious, and able, it was not in her to work for others for any great length of time. As soon as she felt that she "knew the ropes" in New York she told certain friends she had made that she wished to go into the play brokerage business for herself. As she inspires confidence--this is one of her assets--her friends staked her, and she opened her office with the intention of promoting American plays only. Her trained mind rapidly adapted itself to business and in the course of a few years she was handling the plays of many of the leading dramatists for a proportionate number of leading producers. When the war broke out, so successful was she that she had a house of her own in the East Thirties, furnished with the beautiful things she had collected during her yearly visits to Europe--for long since she had opened offices in Paris and London, her business outgrowing its first local standard.

The war hit her very hard. She had but recently left the hospital after a severe operation, which had followed several years of precarious health. She was quite a year reestablishing her former strength and full capacity for work. One of the most exuberantly vital persons I had ever met, she looked as frail as a reed during that first terrible year of the war, but now seems to have recovered her former energies.

There was more than the common results of an operation to exasperate her nerves and keep her vitality at a low ebb. Some thirty of her male relatives were at the Front, and the whole world of the theater was smitten with a series of disastrous blows. Sixteen plays on the road failed in one day, expensive plays ran a week in New York. Managers went into bankruptcy. It was a time of strain and uncertainty and depression, and nobody suffered more than the play brokers. Miss Kauser as soon as the war broke out rented her house and went into rooms that she might send to Hungary all the money she could make over expenses, and for a year this money was increasingly difficult to collect, or even to make. But if she despaired no one heard of it. She hung on. By and by the financial tide turned for the country at large and she was one of the first to ride on the crest. Her business is now greater than ever, and her interest in life as keen.

 

 

 

 

III

BELLE DA COSTA GREENE

 

 

This "live wire," one of the outstanding personalities in New York, despite her youth, is the antithesis of the two previous examples of successful women in business, inasmuch as no judge on the bench nor surgeon at the Front ever had a severer training for his profession than she. People who meet for the first time the young tutelar genius of Mr. Morgan's Library, take for granted that any girl so fond of society, so fashionable in dress and appointments, and with such a comet's tail of admirers, must owe her position with its large salary to "pull," and that it is probably a sinecure anyway.

Little they know.

Belle Greene, who arrests even the casual if astute observer with her overflowing joie de vivre and impresses him as having the best of times in this best of all possible worlds, is perhaps the "keenest on her job" of any girl in the city of New York. Let any of these superficial admirers attempt to obtain entrance, if he can, to the Library, during the long hours of work, and with the natural masculine intention of clinching the favorable impression he made on the young lady the evening before, and he will depart in haste, moved to a higher admiration or cursing the well-known caprice of woman, according to his own equipment.

For Miss Greene's determination to be one of the great librarians of the world took form within her precocious brain at the age of thirteen and it has never fluctuated since. Special studies during both school and recreation hours were pursued to the end in view: Latin, Greek, French, German, history--the rise and spread of civilization in particular, and as demonstrated by the Arts, Sciences, and Literature of the world. When she had absorbed all the schools could give her, she took an apprenticeship in the Public Library system in order thoroughly to ground herself in the clerical and routine phases of the work.

She took a special course in bibliography at the Amherst Summer Library School, and then entered the Princeton University Library on nominal pay at the foot of the ladder, and worked up through every department in order to perfect herself for the position of University Librarian.

While at Princeton she decided to specialize in early printing, rare books, and historical and illuminated manuscripts. She studied the history of printing from its inception in 1445 to the present day. It was after she had taken up the study of manuscripts from the standpoint of their contents that she found that it was next to impossible to progress further along that line in this country, as at that time we had neither the material nor the scholars. She has often expressed the wish that there had been in her day a Morgan Library for consultation.

When she had finished the course at Princeton she went abroad and studied with the recognized authorities in England and Italy. Ten years, in fact, were spent in unceasing application, what the college boy calls "grind," without which Miss Greene is convinced it is impossible for any one to succeed in any vocation or attain a distinguished position. To all demands for advice her answer is, "Work, work, and more work."

She took hold of the Morgan Library in its raw state, when the valuable books and MSS. Mr. Morgan had bought at sales in Europe were still packed in cases; and out of that initial disorder Belle Greene, almost unaided, has built up one of the greatest libraries in the world. Soon after her installation she began a systematic course in Art research. She visited the various museums and private collections of this country, and got in touch with the heads of the different departments and their curators. She followed their methods until it was borne in upon her that most of them were antiquated and befogging, whereupon she began another course in Europe during the summer months in order to study under the experts in the various fields of art; comparing the works of artists and artisans of successive periods, applying herself to the actual technique of painting in its many phases, studying the influence of the various masters upon their contemporaries and future disciples.

By attending auction sales, visiting dealers constantly and all exhibitions, reading all art periodicals, she soon learned the commercial value of art objects.

Thus in time she was able and with authority to assist Mr. Morgan in the purchase of his vast collections which embraced art in all its forms. With the exception of that foundation of the library which caused Mr. Morgan to engage her services, she has purchased nearly every book and manuscript it contains.

Another branch of the collectors' art that engaged Miss Greene's attention was the clever forgery, a business in itself. She even went so far as to buy more than one specimen, thus learning by actual handling and examination to distinguish the spurious from the real. Now she knows the difference at a glance. She maintains there is even a difference in the smell Mr. Morgan bought nothing himself without consulting her; if they were on opposite sides of the world he used the cable.

Naturally Miss Greene to-day enjoys the entrée to that select and jealously guarded inner circle of authorities, who despise the amateur, but who recognize this American girl, who has worked as hard as a day laborer, as "one of them." But she maintains that if she had not thoroughly equipped herself in the first place not even the great advantages she enjoyed as Mr. Morgan's librarian could have given her the peculiar position she now enjoys, a position that is known to few of the people she plays about with in her leisure hours.

She has adopted the mottoes of the two contemporaries she has most admired: Mr. Morgan's "Onward and Upward" and Sarah Bernhardt's "Quand Même."

 

 

 

 

IV

HONORÉ WILLSIE

 

 

Honoré Willsie, who comes of fine old New England stock, although she looks like a Burne-Jones and would have made a furore in London in the Eighties, was brought up in the idea that an American woman should fit herself for self-support no matter what her birth and conditions. Her mother, although the daughter of a rich man, was brought up on the same principles, and taught school until she married. All her friends, no matter how well-off, made themselves useful and earned money.

Therefore, Mrs. Willsie was thoroughly imbued while a very young girl with the economic ideal, although her mother had planted with equal thoroughness the principle that it was every woman's primary duty to marry and have a family.

Mrs. Willsie was educated at Madison, Wisconsin, beginning with the public schools and graduating from the University. She married immediately after leaving college, and, encouraged by her husband, a scientist, and as hard a student as herself, she began to write. Her first story followed the usual course; it was refused by every magazine to which she sent it; but, undiscouraged, she rewrote it for a syndicate. For a year after this she used the newspapers as a sort of apprenticeship to literature and wrote story after story until she had learned the craft of "plotting." When she felt free in her new medium she began writing for the better magazines; and, compared with most authors, she has had little hard climbing in her upward course. Naturally, there were obstacles and setbacks, but she is not of the stuff that ten times the number could discourage.

Then came the third stage. She wrote a novel. It was refused by many publishers in New York, but finally accepted as a serial in the first magazine that had rejected it.

This was The Heart of the Desert. After that followed Still Jim which established her and paved the way for an immediate reception for that other fine novel of American ideals, Lydia of the Pines.

It was about two years ago that she was asked to undertake the editorship of the Delineator, and at first she hesitated, although the "job" appealed to her; she had no reason to believe that she possessed executive ability. The owner, who had "sized her up," thought differently, and the event has justified him. She ranks to-day as one of the most successful, courageous, and resourceful editors of woman's magazines in the country. The time must come, of course, when she no longer will be willing to give up her time to editorial work, now that there is a constant demand for the work she loves best; but the experience with its contacts and its mental training must always have its value. The remarkable part of it was that she could fill such a position without having served some sort of an apprenticeship first. Nothing but the sound mental training she had received at home and at college, added to her own determined will, could have saved her from failure in spite of her mental gifts.

Mrs. Willsie, like all women worth their salt, says that she never has felt there was the slightest discrimination made against her work by publishers or editors because she was a woman.

 

 

 

THE END.

 

 

 

 

ADDENDUM

NOTE.--Six months ago I wrote asking Madame d'Andigné to send me notes of her work before becoming the President of Le Bien--Être du Blessé. She promised, but no woman in France is busier. The following arrived after the book was in press, so I can only give it verbatim.--G.A.


At the time this gigantic struggle broke out I was in America. My first thought was to get to France as soon as possible. I sailed on August 2nd for Cherbourg but as we were pursued by two German ships our course was changed and I landed in England. After many trials and tribulations I reached Paris. The next day I went to the headquarters of the French Red Cross and offered my services. I showed the American Red Cross certificate which had been given to me at the end of my services at Camp Meade during the Spanish-American War. As I had had practically little surgical experience since the course I took at the Rhode Island Hospital before the Spanish-American War I asked to take a course in modern surgery. I was told that my experience during that war and my Red Cross certificate was more than sufficient. After serious reflection I decided that I could render more service to France by getting in the immense crops that were standing in our property in the south of France than by nursing the wounded soldiers. Far less glorious but of vital importance! So off I went to the south of France. By the middle of October thousands of kilos of cereals and hay and over 20,000 hectoliters of wine were ready to supply the army at the front. I then spent my time in various hospitals studying the up-to-date system of hospital war relief work. It was not difficult to see the deficiencies--the means of rapidly transporting the wounded from the "postes de secours" to an operating table out of the range of cannons--in other words auto-ambulances--impossible to find in France at that time. So I cabled to America. The first was offered by my father. It was not until January that this splendid spacious motor-ambulance arrived and was offered immediately to the French Red Cross. Presently others arrived and were offered to the Service de Santé. These cars have never ceased to transport the wounded from the Front lines to hospitals in the War Zone. I heard of one in the north and another in the Somme. This work finished, I took up duty as assistant in an operating room in Paris to get my hand in. I next went to a military hospital at Amiens. This hospital was partly closed soon afterward, and, anxious to have a great deal of work, I went to the military hospital at Versailles.

The work in the operating room was very absorbing, as it was there that that wonderful apparatus for locating a bullet by mathematical calculation was invented and first used. There, between those four white walls I have seen bullets extracted from the brain, the lungs, the liver, the "vesicule biliaire," etc., etc.

From there I was called to a large military hospital at the time of the attack in Champagne in September, 1915. Soon I was asked to organize and superintend the Service of the Mussulman troops. At first it was hard and unsatisfactory. I spoke only a few words of Arabic and they spoke but little French. I had difficulty in overcoming the contempt that the Mussulmans have for women. They were all severely wounded and horribly mutilated, but the moral work was more tiring than the physical.

However, little by little they got used to me and I to them. We became the best of friends and I never experienced more simple childlike gratitude than with these "Sidis." I remember one incident worth quoting. I was suffering from a severe grippy cold--they saw that I was tired and felt miserable. I left the ward for a few moments. On returning I found that they had pushed a bed a little to one side in a corner and had turned down the bed-clothes and placed a hot-water jug in it (without hot water). The occupant was a Moroccan as black as the ace of spades; he was trepanned but was allowed up a certain number of hours a day. "Maman,"--they all called me Maman--"toi blessée, toi ergut (lie down) nous tubibe (doctor) nous firmli (nurse)." And this black, so-called savage, Moroccan took up his post beside the bed as I had often done for him. I explained as best as I could that I would have to have a permission signed by the Medecin-Chef, otherwise I would be punished; and the Medecin-Chef had left the hospital for the night. He shook his wise black head, "Maman blessée, Maman blessée!"

One called me one day and asked me what my Allah was like. I told him I thought he was probably very much like his. Well! if my Allah was not good to me, theirs would take care of me, they would see to that.

In May, 1916, I was asked to organize a war relief work[H] at the request of the Service de Santé. This work was to provide the "grands blessés et malades" with light nourishing food, in other words, invalid food. The rules and regulations of the French military hospitals are not sufficiently elastic to allow the administering of such food. In time of war it would be easier almost to remove Mt. Blanc than to change these rules and regulations. There was just one solution--private war relief work.

[H] Le Bien--Être du Blessé.

So, with great regret, I bade good-bye to these children I never would have consented to have left had it not been for the fact that I knew from experience how necessary was the war relief work which was forced upon me, as I had seen many men die from want of light nourishing food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton